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Indian Mutiny

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The Indian Mutiny (also known as the Sepoy Mutiny) was a period of uprising and rebellions[?] in northern and central India against British rule in 1857-1858. It is also known as the Sepoy Rebellion, the Great Mutiny, and the Revolt of 1857. Indian writers often describe it as an uprising or sometimes a war of independence.

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Rebellion was not limited to mere army mutiny. Indians were dissatisfied with the heavy-handed rule of the British East India Company who had embarked on a project of rather rapid westernization[?].

For example, they intended to replace native princes. The leader of the Marathas[?], Nana Sahib[?], was denied his titles in 1853 and his pension was stopped. The last of the Moghul[?] emperors, Bahadur Shah II[?], was told that he would be the end of his dynasty. If a landowner did not leave a male heir, the land became the property of the Company via the Doctrine of Lapse[?] carried out by Governor-General Dalhousie and his successor, Lord Canning.

The British also abolished child marriage[?], suttee[?] and hunted down thuggees[?].

Indians came to believe – with some justification – that the British intended to convert them to Christianity. They began to spread the rumor of a prophecy that the Company’s rule would end after 100 years.


Sepoys were native Indian soldiers serving in the army of the East India Company under British NCOs[?] and officers trained in the company’s own military school in England. The presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Bengal maintained their own army each with its own commander-in-chief[?]. They fielded more troops than the official army of the British Empire. In 1857 there were 257.000 sepoys.

The sepoys were dissatisfied with various aspects of army life. Their pay was relatively small and after the British troops conquered Awadh[?] and the Punjab, the soldiers no longer received extra pay for missions there, because they were no longer considered "foreign missions".

In addition, the Company also recruited Indians of other castes than Brahmins and Rajputs[?]; the latter is a traditional warrior caste in India. In 1856 sepoys were required to serve overseas which, to them, would have meant the loss of caste.

The most famous reason is the – at least rumored - use of cow and pig fat in Lee-Enfield rifle cartridges. Since soldiers would have to break the cartridges with their teeth before they could load them into their rifles, this was offensive to Hindu and Muslim soldiers. In February 1857 sepoys refused to use their new cartridges. The British replaced the cartridges with new ones and tried to make sepoys make their own grease from beeswax and vegetable oils but the rumor persisted.

In March 1857 Mangal Pande of the 34th Native Infantry attacked his British sergeant, wounded an adjutant and them shot himself. The whole regiment was dismissed as a collective punishment. Other sepoys did not think it was justified.

A couple of weeks later, on May 9 in Meerut[?], 85 troopers of the 3rd Light Cavalry refused to use their cartridges. They were imprisoned and sentenced to ten years of hard labor and stripped of their uniforms in public.

Mutiny begins

Serious unrest begun the next day, on May 10, 1857 when the XI Native Cavalry of the Bengal Army in Meerut[?] mutinied. They released everybody from the town prison and attacked the European cantonment where they killed all Europeans and any Indian Christians they could find. This included all women and children from master to the servant. Then they burned the houses and marched towards Delhi. Initially British troops did not pursue them.

The next day in Delhi they were joined by other Indians from the local bazaar. They attacked the Red Fort[?], killed five British – including a British officer and two women – and demanded Bahadur Shah to reclaim his throne. He reluctantly agreed and became the nominal leader of the rebellion. The sepoys proceeded to kill every European and Christian in the city.

Supporters and non-supporters

The rebels did not agree in everything. Many Indians joined the rebels and attempted to restore both Moghul and Maratha emperors. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the female leader of Jhansi which had been claimed in 1853 by the British, led a strong rebellion. There were calls for jihad by some leaders, including the millennarian[?] Ahmedullah Shah[?]. Many Muslim artisans fought for religious reasons.

However, not all Indian peoples supported the rebellion. The Sikhs of Punjab did not cherish the idea of return of Moghul[?] rule and fought in British ranks. In Awadh[?], Sunni Muslims didn't want to see a return to Shiite rule, so they often refused to join what they perceived to be a Shia rebellion. Most of the south of the country remained passive.

Retaking Delhi

The British were slow to strike back at first but eventually two columns left Meerut and Simla. They proceeded slowly towards the Delhi and fought, killed and hanged numerous Indians along the way. At the same time, British moved regiments from the Crimean War to India.

After a march lasting two months, the British fought the main army of the rebels near Delhi in Badl-ke-Serai[?] and drove them back to Delhi. The British established a base on Delhi ridge and besieged the city though the encirclement was hardly complete – the rebels could easily receive resources and reinforcements. Later they were joined by the Punjab Movable Column of Sikh soldiers and elements of Gurkha Brigade.

Eagerly-awaited heavy siege guns did not guarantee an easy victory against numerical superiority of the sepoys. Eventually the British broke through Kashmiri gate[?] and began a week of street fighting. Sikh troops left after the death of their commander. When the British reached the Red Fort, Bahadur Shah had already fled to Humayun's tomb[?]. The British had retaken the city.

British arrested Bahadur Shah later and the next day British officer William Hodson shot his sons Mizra Moghul, Mizra Khizr Sultan and Mizra Abu Bakr under his own authority.


In June, sepoys under general Wheeler in Cawnpore[?](Kanpur) rebelled – apparently with tacit approval of Nana Sahib – and besieged European entrenchment. The British lasted three weeks of siege without water and suffering constant casualties. On June the 25th Nana Sahib requested surrender and Wheeler had little choice but to accept. When British boarded riverboats, their pilots fled and exchange of fire ensued. Indians fired at the boats with grapeshot and filled the river with corpses. Only one boat with 4 men escaped.

The surviving women and children were led to Bibi-Ghar (the house of the women) in Cawnpore. On July 15 a group of men entered it and killed everyone with knives and hatchets and hacked them to pieces. Their bodies were thrown down a well.

British were aghast and the pro-Indian proponents lost all their support. Cawnpore became a war cry for the British soldiers for the rest of the conflict. Nana Sahib disappeared.

When the British retook Cawnpore later, soldiers took their sepoy prisoners to the Bibi-Ghar and forced them to lick the bloodstain from the walls and floor. Then they hanged them.


The state of Oudh (modern-day Uttar Pradesh) went into rebellion very soon after events in Meerut. British commander of Lucknow[?], Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his position inside the Residency compound. He had 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels’ initial assaults were not successful and they begun a barrage of artillery and musket fire into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties. The rebels tried to breach the walls with explosives and bypass them via underground tunnels that led to underground close combat. After 90 days of siege, numbers of British were reduced to 300 loyal sepoys, 350 British soldiers and 550 noncombatants.

On September 25 a thousand soldiers of Highlanders joined them. In October another Highlander unit under Sir Colin Campbell[?] came to relieve them and on November 18 they evacuated the compound – women and children first. They fled to now-retaken Cawnpore.


From the end of 1857 British begun to gain ground again. Lucknow was retaken in March 1958.

Due to the bloody start of the rebellion and especially after apparent treachery of Nana Sahib and butchery in Cawnpore, the British considered that they had a reason to answer in kind. British press and British government did not advocate clemency of any kind. Soldiers took very few prisoners and often executed them later. Whole villages were wiped out for apparent pro-rebel sympathies. The Indians called it Devil’s Wind.

The last rebels were defeated in Gwalior on June 20 1858. Sporadic fighting continued to 1859 but most of the rebels were subdued. Sentenced rebels were lashed to the mouth of cannon and blown to pieces.


In the aftermath of the rebellion, the British government decided to take India under the direct control of Crown under the rule of “British Raj” or Viceroy. They embarked on reform, tried to integrate Indian higher castes and rulers to the government and abolished the East India Company. They stopped land grabs, decreed religious tolerance and admitted Indians into civil service, albeit mainly as subordinates. They also increased number of British soldiers in relation to native ones and only British soldiers could handle artillery. In 1877 Queen Victoria gained the title of Empress of India. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon where he died 1862.

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