It is innaccurate of many writers to talk of a ‘surprising revolt of the Indian Army’. The Indian Mutiny (1857-8) was an uprising of the Army of Bengal, but it was hardly unexpected, as the English had been superior in India for a very long time, and no-one can be more superior than an Englishman, or, as in this case, Englishwomen. Thinkers do not have to look too far for the motives that inspired Hindus and Muslims to revolt against their white chiefs. They had a melting pot of grievances, but two hundred years of maltreatment of the natives by the Memsahibs was among them.
The mutiny became civil war because of unfairness, especially in Oudh. The rebellion was causes by resentment of reforms of very old Indian institutions, especially those carried out by Governors-General Dalhousie (GG 1847 – 56) and his successor Lord Canning. Both religious sects feared a forcible conversion to Christianity. Both were suspicious of the cow-fat (Hindus) or pig-fat (Muslims) they were issued with to grease their cartridges. Be that as it may, it would be unjust not to point out that the British had tried to remedy this ‘evil’ well before the Mutiny started.
The outbreak started at Meerut on May 10, 1857. Three Indian regiments of Sepoys belonging to the army of the East India Company mutinied, killing their white officers, and marched on the city of Delhi, which they took. Once established, the regiments proclaimed the ancient Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah II as their leader, rather to his surprise.
A large section of the civilian population in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh joined the Sepoys, and blood was spilled in copious quantities. Men, women and children, if they were white, were the targets for mass murder in their homes, in the streets and their Christian churches.
The insurrection spread like proverbial wildfire through the summer of 1857 into the valley of the Ganges river, the previously mentioned Oudh, Rohilhand and Central India. Unfortunately for them, British forces and their families were cut off at Cawnpore and Lucknow. In the last days of June British soldiers and a few loyal Sepoys took and held a ridge facing Delhi, but could not re-take the city until September.
At Cawnpore the British surrendered, persuaded by a smooth Indian leader called Nana Sahib, who had a seductive tongue. Nana promised the garrison safe passage out of the city, but he broke his promise and as soon as the pathetic group of several hundred British soldiers and their families had left Cawnpore almost all were murdered. News of the treachery and subsequent massacre caused deeply felt resentment among the British, and their eventual revenge would be horrible enough to shock the hardest historian. Bloggers are requested to read a ‘Flashman’ novel written about this period by George Macdonald Fraser. Flashman in the Great Game (Barrie and Jenkins 1975) is the best researched and informed account of the Indian Mutiny in existence (though it is a novel).
In the autumn, Major-General Havelock leading his white troops from the front took back Cawnpore and the Lucknow Residency. The swing began. The brilliant Scot Sir Colin Campbell drove the rebels back through the rest of the winter, and Sir Hugh Rose recovered Central India in a series of crushing victories by the spring of 1848. Amiong the fallen was the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai, a fighting amazon of the hardest kind. Peace of a kind was achieved on 8 July, 1858, but not before atrocities had been committed on both sides. Bitter resentment against the Indian Sepoys stayed entrenched in the minds of the British; never before had women and small children been murdered with such unholy glee in an English war, and such a thing was not easily forgotten or forgiven. Bahadur Shah was sent into exile, not at all to his surprise.
In August 1858, the Government passed an India Act, an attempt to settle the internal discord after the Mutiny, by changing forms of government. The Act abolished the great East India Company, transferring power to the Crown, and the old company’s troops to the British Army. Government in London created the post of Secretary of State for India, with an advisory council of fifteen men. At the same time the title of Governor-General was changed to that of Viceroy.
With independence and partition in 1948, India was free of the British for the first time in two hundred years.