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Our Indian Empire page 2

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British rule, notwithstanding its manifold errors, had been eminently beneficent, and the natives were wise enough to perceive that life was more desirable now than it had been in the days of their fathers. There is no reason to believe that there existed among them any widespread dissatisfaction with the government which had brought them the novel enjoyment of security to life and property. But the Mohammedans hated us, of necessity, with the fierce hatred which their religion inspires. The Hindus feared our interference with the faith to which they were devoted. It was believed that the British meditated the forcible conversion of all their subjects to Christianity. Already we had forbidden some observances to which they attached religious significance. Human sacrifices might no longer be offered to the gods. Infanticide was no longer a religious service; it had become a crime. Women could not be consumed on the funeral pile of their departed husbands. Nay, an act was now passed which removed all legal obstacles to the marriage of Hindu widows. Still more extended desecration of sacred things was generally apprehended. Our usages differed from those of the people whom we ruled. Our domestic life incurred their contempt. They could not satisfy themselves as to the religious tendency of our railways and telegraphs, and they viewed with inarticulate mistrust the vast mechanical revolution which began to develop itself on every side. Dethroned princes and Brahmans, conscious of decaying authority, did not cease to intrigue against us. And there sprang up and spread itself widely among the people the persuasion that the term of our dominion was reached, and our fall imminent. A slow aggregation of dislikes and suspicions contrary to all reason built up the catastrophe which was now at hand.

The army by which Britain maintained her authority over India was composed mainly of natives (The sepoys in the company's service when the mutiny occurred numbered two hundred and thirty thousand; the Europeans forty-five thousand). The early annals of the sepoy army were not without stains of mutiny and massacre and the fierce retribution of the enraged Englishmen. But for many years all had been tranquil, and the sepoy had become a proverb for fidelity to those who employed and fed him. But here also a lamentable change was in preparation. Special care had been successfully used to foster disaffection among the native soldiers. Their superstition was cunningly appealed to; their loyalty was sapped by prophecy and insinuation, by fear of our profane innovations, by promise of advantage from our fall. Sir Charles Napier had given warning of the changed temper of the troops, and since his time other officers had perceived and reported the same ominous indications. The soldiers had ceased to manifest the accustomed deference to their officers. Occasionally they objected to some descriptions of service; occasionally they refused; frequently they made stipulations with their officers. The officers, widely separated from the soldiers by diverse customs, faith, and language, knew little of the character and power of those mysterious influences by which the men were becoming visibly deteriorated. But enough was known to awaken grave apprehensions of impending calamity.

At the opening of 1857 it was well understood that discontent and alarm existed in the army, and that everywhere fallen native dignitaries intrigued busily to compass the expulsion of the invaders. But the British, confident in their strength and their honesty of purpose, went calmly on their course, trusting that untoward symptoms would disappear as they had done before. The expectation was not unreasonable, and might well have been fulfilled but for the occurrence of circumstances which maddened the sepoys with fear, and carried them hopelessly beyond restraint or control.

Hitherto the Indian troops had been armed with no better weapon than the smooth-bore musket. It was now determined to substitute for that antiquated contrivance the Enfield rifle. The sepoys hailed with a soldier's joy the increased efficacy of their arms. But in order to secure accuracy of aim it was needful that the cartridge should fit tightly to the grooved barrel, and without lubrication the tightly-fitting cartridge could not be easily rammed home. In the government factories animal fat was the lubricant employed. This seemingly trivial detail became known, and the knowledge spread among the troops with extraordinary rapidity. It thrilled the dusky legions with horror such as they had never known before. The Mohammedan perceived that he must in future defile his lips with the fat of the abhorred swine. The Hindu perceived that he must offer indignity to the venerated cow. The worst fears of all were confirmed: the English government had planned the destruction of caste, the overthrow of the native religions, the fraudulent conversion of the people to the faith of the white man. The sepoy was in presence of a revolution which was, to him, of terrible significance. He and his children were in danger of losing religion arid social position - their place both in this world and that which is to come. "When he returned to his native village his friends would disown, him as a recreant. A great fear had fallen upon him, under the influence of which deeds of abject foolishness and of savage cruelty became possible. The governor-general sought to allay the growing agitation by assurances that no evil had been intended. The offensive cartridges were not served out, and the men were suffered to apply with their own hands a lubricant of whose integrity they were able to satisfy themselves. But reason had no longer power over the excited soldiery. The wildest rumours were eagerly received. It was believed that animal fat was used in the manufacture of paper for the cartridges. It was believed that flour was served out mixed with the bones of the cow ground to powder. Confidence in the government was gone. Every feeling of loyalty and fidelity, every memory of ancient kindness, every sentiment of soldierly honour had perished. Nothing remained but hatred and fear of the white men and their unholy devices.

The men who sought advantage by the overthrow of British power hastened to avail themselves of the great opportunity. The dethroned king of Oude pressed upon the discontented sepoys offers of a lucrative service under the standard which he hoped soon to raise. Nana Sahib, the heir of a dispossessed prince who had long been a pensioner of the government, had failed to obtain a renewal of the lapsed inheritance, and sought to avenge himself by organizing a hostile combination of aggrieved chiefs. At first he met with little encouragement, but now he redoubled his diligence, and his overtures were widely accepted. Everywhere it was believed that the British rule would, as the old prediction ran, pass away at the close of a hundred years from its establishment.

The greatness of the danger was first disclosed at Meerut, where the native regiments slaughtered their officers and many European ladies and children. At Delhi the same horrors were perpetrated, and the deposed king raised his standard over the ancient palace of the Mogul. Before May closed the soldiers had mutinied at twenty-two stations in the Bengal presidency, everywhere murdering, without discrimination, all Europeans who fell into their hands. At Cawnpore there was committed a crime of appalling magnitude and baseness which will hold for ever a foremost place in the annals of human guilt. A force of revolted sepoys directed by the Nana Sahib besieged Cawnpore, which was held against them by General "Wheeler and the Europeans (About three hundred fighting men) who were with him. When a bombardment of twenty days had been endured, and one hundred brave men had fallen, a capitulation was agreed to, by the terms of which the besieged were allowed to leave Cawnpore. They reached the boats; some were in the act of embarking, others were settling quietly to their oars, when suddenly from every side there opened upon them a fire of musketry and artillery. In a few minutes half of the little party were killed or wounded. The others were seized and carried back to Cawnpore, where the men were at once shot. The ladies and children, in number two hundred and six, were held captive in a large apartment which had been used as an assembly room. Eighteen days later five men armed with sabres were seen in the twilight to approach the building. They entered the room, and quietly closed the door. Shrieks were heard and low groans, and the sound of blows as the savages hewed to death the unresisting women and little children who filled the room. Thrice a hacked and blunted sabre was passed out, and a sharper weapon received in exchange. Next morning the mutilated bodies were dragged forth and cast into a huge well. When, two days after, the avenging English, under General Havelock, reached Cawnpore, the blood of the victims still lay on the stone pavement of the hall; fragments of ladies' and children's dresses, soaked in blood, were scattered all around. The traces of this foul crime filled the men with horror, and steeled their hearts for the work of relentless vengeance to which England was now committed.

British dominion in India was shaken to its foundations. The governor-general, Lord Canning, recognized the greatness of the peril, and braced himself to maintain the empire which Clive had gained a hundred years ago. All British troops were gathered up from the other presidencies and hurried to the revolted north. A few regiments on their way eastward to inflict chastisement on the offending Chinese, were turned aside to the more urgent work of saving India. A petty war with Persia had been opportunely closed by the submission of the enemy, and the returning troops were available for immediate service. A little later on the sufficient help which had been called for from England was sure to come. On the final result no doubt rested, but many weeks of difficulty and lamentable suffering must first be endured.

The dark period during which the mutineers were free to work their evil pleasure came quickly to a close. The British, weak in respect of numbers, but mighty in their personal supremacy and the just wrath which burned in every heart, went forth to the reconquest of India. Within two months from the first outburst of mutiny a little army set out from Allahabad. It numbered two thousand men, and it was under the command of General Havelock, one of the noblest examples of the Christian soldier of which even the Indian army can boast. General Havelock was a veteran of forty years' service, and till now it had not fallen to him to enjoy an independent command. His career approached its close, and the high soldierly qualities with which he was endowed were still unrevealed. But now, even at the close, there came the opportunity for which his soul thirsted. Only a few months of life were left, but these sufficed to gain for him a foremost place among soldiers, and to earn the enduring gratitude of his countrymen.

Cawnpore had fallen before Havelock's march began. For several weeks the affairs of the province had been administered in name of the Nana Sahib, but there was no semblance of effective government. The emancipated ruffianism of the district, associating itself with bands of mutinied sepoys, roamed at large over the country, plundering, burning, murdering. The army passed many villages which had been destroyed, and some towns wholly deserted by their inhabitants. The quietness and security which the strong government of the foreigners bestowed had wholly disappeared, and in their place had come back, at one stride, the old reign of violence and disorder. Everywhere the English perceived evidence of the hatred with which they were regarded. Their churches were laboriously desecrated; their telegraphs were destroyed; their locomotives were battered with cannon-shot; their very milestones were dug out or defaced. It was the dream of the rebels that English authority was subverted. Their concern now was to obliterate every memorial which recalled the detested supremacy of the strangers.

The Nana had large forces at his disposal, amply supplied with the artillery of which he had been able to possess himself. Thrice he met the avenging British, and thrice he sustained bloody defeat. Havelock entered Cawnpore, chasing away the disheartened rebels. The Nana himself disappeared, and no diligence of search was ever able to bring him to the punishment which his unparalleled crime had earned. Havelock had no leisure to bestow upon the triumph which he had gained. At a distance of forty miles, in the city of Lucknow, a small and diminishing band of Englishmen, held, with the courage of despair, a position which competent military authority would have declared to be utterly untenable. Luck-now was the capital of Oude, and contained a population of nearly three-quarters of a million. Oude, the latest of our acquisitions, had wholly risen against us. We had not gained the favour of our new subjects, notwithstanding the benefits we brought them. Certain taxes which we imposed were highly distasteful. That influential class who profited by the vices of the old government were earnestly hostile to the new. The great landowners, whose crimes had been flagrant and whose reputation was exceedingly bad, had been ruthlessly overthrown, and now thirsted for restoration and revenge. The king's disbanded army was a formidable weapon ready to the hand of the evil-disposed. Sir Henry Lawrence, one of the many Christian heroes and strong wise men whose names adorn the annals of our Indian administration, was then chief commissioner of Oude. He was not attacked at once, and he had time to make some preparation for resistance. By the end of June the little garrison of Lucknow, with a large dependency of English ladies and children, were gathered into the Residency. Around them on every side swarmed a savage enemy eager for their blood. From every available point artillery, served by the men we ourselves had trained, played without ceasing upon our crumbling defences. One or two days after the siege began a shell burst close to Sir Henry Lawrence, and wounded him so that he died. The fire of the enemy searched every corner of the building, and the losses sustained by the garrison told fearfully upon their strength. The heat was excessive, and the mortality of children and of wounded men was very great. Every privation was patiently endured; every danger was bravely faced. But the time was too plainly at hand when failing supplies and loss of life in battle must bring the heroic defence to a terrible close.

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