JUST one hundred years ago the victory of Plassey consolidated that magnificent Indian empire, of which the basis had been laid by the Anglo-Saxon energy of our traders. During one hundred years we have advanced from victory to victory, and continued annexation and appropriation have extended our powers to the furthest ends of the Indian peninsula. How, then, could it be anticipated that the centenary of the battle of Plassey would be inaugurated by the most foul and bloody mutiny ever yet inscribed in the annals of history. It is true that we have known downtrodden nations rise against their oppressors, and satiate themselves with blood, in remembrance of long-endured wrongs, but the Indian mutiny is unparalleled. The policy which has guided the rulers of India has been essentially that of conciliation, and hence the fearful blow that has fallen upon us was unmerited. It may be that such policy was false; that the Asiatic mind is incapable of analysing motives, or drawing a distinction between clemency and weakness; but, at any rate, there is some slight consolation in the thought that, if we have hitherto erred in our treatment of the mixed peoples of India, the error has been one of judgment, and the causes of the outbreak cannot be sought in our tyranny.
The condition of the Sepoys has been the subject of grave consideration to many far-sighted men; even so far back as 1822, Sir Thomas Munro warned the Company, that "owing to the unnatural situation in which India will be placed under a foreign government, with a free press and a native army, the spirit of independence will spring up in this army long before it is thought of among the people." He then proceeds to state that the assemblage of Sepoys in garrisons and cantonments will render it easier for them to consult together regarding their plans. They will have difficulty in finding leaders qualified to direct them; but patience, their habits of discipline, and their experience will hold out to them a prospect of success. They will be stimulated by a love of power and avarice to carry their designs into execution. Does this not seem like a voice from the dead warning us of the present fearful crisis? Nor has there been any lack of advisers from that time to the present. Men like Sir Charles Napier, Colonel Jacobs, and Lord Melville, who agreed on no other matter, were unanimous in drawing the public opinion to the unsatisfactory condition of the Bengal army. The revelations made to the House of Lords by Lord Melville prove that the directors must have known the danger for a long time, and blindly closed their eyes against it. He stated openly that, in 1850, when the Company was sedulously engaged in disgusting Sir Charles Napier, and eventually driving him from their army, because he affirmed it was largely afflicted by a thirst for mutiny—the discipline of that army was, in point of fact, of the worst possible description. The grossest overt acts of mutiny had been committed, and so bad was the condition of the army known to be, that his lordship was entreated not to give utterance to the facts in public, as it was considered undesirable that foreign nations should be made acquainted with the real state of affairs. The late General Anson, from the time he assumed the command, deemed it to be his duty to represent to the Board of Directors the absolute necessity of increasing the European force in India, but to that recommendation, so far as government was concerned, no sort of attention was paid. On the contrary, the directors, as if desirous to prove their utter incompetency, went on the old wrong path, and unhappily found a willing instrument in Lord Dalhousie. During that nobleman's governorship, the extension of British territory and absorption of native states have tended to alarm the Hindoo. Thirteen different kingdoms or states have been annexed during the last ten years, ten being seized for lapse of male heirs, without regard to the Hindoo law, which admits of adoption. At the same time, their policy was suicidal: by striving to bring Europeans under the native law, owing to their insane jealousy of independent settlers, and thus pampering the prejudices of the Hindoos, the Company have at the same time insulted them in their religion, by fostering the efforts of the missionaries. So far, indeed, has this gone, that a colonel of a regiment has actually tried his arts of persuasion on his own troops, and produced consequences which, for the sake of humanity, we believe he could never have foreseen.
Nor must it be forgotten that, for a length of time, a feeling has been rife among the natives that some great crisis in their religions polity is at hand, and that Hinduism will be supplanted by Christianity. As is usual in such cases, old prophecies are raked up to become pregnant with meaning. Mr. Irving tells us in his very valuable work, "The Theory and Practice of Caste," "At Benares there stood a pillar, which was a beautiful shaft of one stone, forty feet high, covered with the most exquisite carving, and dedicated to the god Shiva. A tradition concerning it had long been current among the people, that it was formerly twice as high, was gradually sinking into the ground, and when its summit should be level with the earth, all nations would be of one caste, and the religion of Brahma have an end. During a disturbance which happened at Benares, a few years before Heber's visit, between the Hindus and Muhammadans, during which the former had thrown slaughtered hogs into the mosques, and the latter had polluted the Hindu temples, and especially a well, of peculiar sanctity, by smearing them with cows' blood, this identical pillar was thrown down. The occurrence, connected with the excited state of the public mind and the atrocities which had been committed, was universally regarded as an omen fatal to Hinduism. Again, there is a prophecy that the sanctity of Hurdwar will cease in about forty years from the present time, when pilgrimages will no longer be performed there." For some time previously to the present mutiny, a report was in circulation and believed by the natives, that the "padres" had addressed a petition to the Queen, representing that, whereas in the time of the Mussulman kings the natives were compelled to become Muhammadans, for the sixty years during which a Christian government had held the ascendancy, not one native had by force been made a Christian. "Tippoo made thousands of Hindus become of his religion, while your Majesty has not made one Christian." And the alleged petition recommended that bullocks' and pigs' fat should be employed to grease the cartridges, which the Sepoys would put into their mouths, and thus lose caste, and by this means a certain road will be opened for making many Christians. The report went on to say; that "when the Queen read the Urzee, she was greatly pleased, and replied, 'This is a very good thought, and by this means I shall have every Sepoy made a Christian.'" The train being thus laid by the instigators of the mutiny, all that was necessary was to fire it, and the mutiny at Barrukpore was the ostensible result of the "greased cartridges."
But we are of opinion that this was only an inciting cause; the government did all in its power to prove that no bullocks' fat was employed in the manufacture of the cartridges, and the proof would have been amply sufficient to any men with whom mutiny was not a foregone conclusion. There appears little doubt now that a widely ramified conspiracy had been arranged to seize Calcutta and restore the Muhammadan rule, and that it failed more through accident than any display of energy on the part of the European officers. But though the conspiracy was thus forced into a different direction, it speedily burst forth in all its hideous strength. The 3rd Cavalry at Meerut gave the signal, and the whole of the troops followed their example. After committing those fearful atrocities which have caused wailing and lamentation in many an English home, the mutineers were, by some inexplicable mismanagement, allowed to escape to Delhi to continue their atrocities. They were there joined by the three native regiments to which Lord Dalhousie, the much honoured and lauded statesman, had entrusted the defence of that most important city.
In all mutinies, more especially in those commenced by Indian troops, "ce n'est que le premier pas qui coěte" is an axiom; and it is probable that, had the insurgents at Meerut been rapidly and energetically pursued, they would have been prevented carrying out their fell designs. Unfortunately they succeeded in making their escape to Delhi, where they set up the king as their ruler, and the mutiny acquired consistency and purpose. It would be a twice-told tale were we to go through the list of defections, and show how the insurrection spread from station to station; how regiments, but to-day rewarded for their staunchness, convinced the rulers of the fallacy of their views by revolting on the next; but we may be permitted to refer to the manner in which the authorities seemed determined to add fuel to the fire by their reckless conduct and utter disregard of the native temper. A spy came to the 9th Native Infantry to tempt them to revolt, but their feeling was so sound that they delivered him up to the commanding officer, which led to his being tried by a court- martial of native officers, and being sentenced to death. The commanding officer ordered him to be hanged. Upon this the Sepoys remonstrated, saying, that as he belonged to their caste, they would all suffer disgrace if such an ignominious death were inflicted upon him, and they begged that he might be shot—a sentence which they considered he richly deserved, and which they were willing to carry out. As the revolt had been occasioned by disregarding the prejudices of the natives, this opportunity of converting a loyal into a mutinous regiment could not be neglected. Accordingly, the commanding officer insisted that the man should be hanged, and the whole regiment revolted the same night. At the same time, the example of individual bravery was frustrated by the most injudicious proclamations, and the mutineers carried out their design of concentrating themselves in Delhi, where they have hitherto defied the European forces brought up to their attack.
In addition to the strong natural defences of Delhi, it must not be forgotten that, thanks to the far-sighted policy of Lord Dalhousie, the rebels found in that city one hundred amid fifty guns, and tons of stores and gunpowder. That they are skilled in the use of their artillery is unfortunately proved by the correspondent of the Daily News, who mentions that the rebels are firing two 24-pounders to our single 18-pounder. But we have it on very good authority that the Company do not intend to take Delhi at present: they wish to keep it as a trap in which to catch the mutineers—if they are foolish enough to enter blindly—and they pride themselves on the fact that there are very few percussion-caps in Delhi. If this be the case, it evinces a foresight with which we had not been disposed to credit the Company.
And how were these startling events received by the government of England? Did they evince any repentance for allowing such a state of things to have occurred, or did they strive to make up for past faults of omissions by increased energy? We wish we could answer this question in a satisfactory manner; but up to the present ministers do not appear to have attained a sense of their perilous position. Even though Lord Ellenborough, speaking from past experiences and a competent knowledge of the Indian character, urged on the government the necessity of immediate action, our jaunty premier persisted in feeling "no alarm." Lord Granville quoted with pride the satisfactory state of the Indian funds, while Mr. V. Smith even went so far as to maintain the disaffection to be at an end. The insurrection was purely military—such was Lord Palmerston's expressed opinion—and we regret much that the Times, suggesting as it does the political views of the multitude, should have deliberately endorsed this opinion. In vain was it urged that native rulers were mixed up, that the revolt was referrible to different causes than those alleged—in vain was it urged that emissaries had stolen from regiment to regiment, "bearing the bloody lotus-leaf and the bitter cake of revolt:" in a word, that the neglect of good government had fostered dissatisfaction and swelled sedition into revolt. The recognised authority on Indian matters in the House, the avowed mouthpiece of government, deliberately rose in his place to deny that the mutiny was national, or that there was a shadow of evidence of any conspiracy among the native princes. At this very moment the news was flying along the telegraph that the government at Calcutta had arrested the King of Oude, having obtained proof of his complicity in the conspiracy. The entrenchments behind which the ministry had collected being thus sapped, the palinode would have been ludicrous had not the perverseness of government led to such lamentable results. The government organ was forced into the avowal that it was a conspiracy; that the greased cartridges had little or nothing to do with the movement; and that the real secret of the rebellion is in the intrigues of the King of Oude and some of his neighbours. Even the Times, which had looked in vain for so long a time for the influence of dethroned rajahs, at last admitted that the conduct of the native princes was far from satisfactory. The eyes of the nation were at length opened. It was seen that the outbreak was a rebellion of the people and princes of India against our rule, and that the army has been the first exponent of the national discontent. Hence has arisen one universal cry against the present system of Indian government, which must eventually lead to a perfect reconsideration of our policy towards that country. With every mail that arrives from India is received further confirmation that the revolt is not confined to the army. We see it in the gradual spread of discontent, in the apathy of the natives, in the rebellion of the native contingents, and in the fears felt in Madras and Bombay. Day by day the outbreak is assuming more gigantic proportions, and every hour's delay in the despatch of troops is raising hundreds of enemies, who see in that delay a palpable proof of British weakness, and gain a factitious courage to revolt, by seeing our inability to put down the forerunner of a national insurrection.
And in this posture of affairs can we say that Lord Palmerston has acted up to his reputation, or displayed that energy which, being attributed to him, gained him his present exalted position? We will only refer our readers to a speech lately made in the House by Sir De Lacy Evans, who is assuredly no croaker. That great soldier, no foe to the present government, but whose sympathies are generally, though independently, enlisted on their side, was compelled to rise in the House and draw attention to the apathy with which reinforcements had been sent off to India; and while allowing that troops had been despatched with greater rapidity during the past month, he urged that the number required could not be procured without a heavy call upon the muscles and sinews of the agricultural classes. But to the appeal so strongly put forward that troops should at once be sent off by the overland route (for every man now landed would be worth one hundred six months hence), government, we regret to say, turned a deaf ear. The experiment had been tried with the 10th Hussars during the Crimean War, and our consul-general in Egypt strongly hoped that he should never be so troubled again. Ye gods! who ever heard of such a reason before, as that the comforts of an official should be consulted when an empire is at stake. It is well known that as many as three hundred passengers have been carried across the desert in the Company's vans at one trip and we have no doubt that, by the outlay of a little energy, thrice that number might be carried. Nothing would have been more simple than to telegraph to Bombay that transports should be held in readiness at Suez to land the troops in that presidency, whence they would have had an easy and pleasant march to the North-West Provinces, instead of being delayed probably for months, after they arrive at Calcutta. Unfortunately, we have no one at the head of affairs who will act with promptitude. Either through indolence, or fear of responsibility, our ministers prefer adhering to the old beaten track, regardless of the lavish expenditure of blood and treasure which hesitation at such an awful crisis entails. As a worthy counterpart of this, we may refer to the jocose manner in which the prime minister alluded to the presence of troops in the Indian waters, and assumed credit to himself for the hostilities in China, which enabled them to be so seasonably diverted. We hardly think, however, that such ad captandum arguments are worthy of a great minister, as Lord Palmerston wishes himself to be considered; nor do we admire the good taste which induced him to refer to a matter about which the least said is decidedly the best.
But there is one other matter in which the prime minister has undoubtedly committed a grave error; we allude to the decided manner in which he discountenanced the Euphrates Valley Railway, and refused it government assistance at a moment when the most sanguine persons allow that India cannot be tranquillised under five years and an expenditure of money awful to contemplate, and ready means are offered to bring India practically one thousand miles nearer to England. The Euphrates Valley Railway is no crude scheme, and has none of those natural obstacles which justified our minister in at once condemning the Isthmus of Suez Canal; for more than twenty years the eyes of England have been turned to the Valley of the Euphrates, as the great channel by which our communication with India could be facilitated. It is essentially an English scheme, and from the time of General Chesney's exploration to the present day, the subject has been continually ventilated. The conditions for carrying out the project were never so favourable as at present; Turkey has been Europeanised by the communication with the Allies engendered by the late war, and yet Lord Palmerston declines to furnish government assistance, because, though the grand inducements are political, it can only be properly carried out by a commercial organisation; and as government cannot find any precedent to support such organisation, it must apparently remain for ever at a dead lock.
While matters, then, are in such an unsatisfactory condition at home, we should be truly glad if we could predicate anything better of the Indian government. For a time we were disposed to look favourably on Lord Canning, as any successor would be preferable to the strange freaks said obstinate self-esteem of Lord Dalhousie. We were aware that he arrived at the seat of government perfectly unversed in Indian matters, and found his hands tied soon after his arrival by the dislocation of troops for the purposes of the Persian war. There is, it is true, an anecdote current that, when the Premier was asked why he had selected Lord Canning as governor-general of India, Lord Palmerston replied, "His father gave me my first place in a cabinet, and I could not do less by his father's son;" but we are disposed to regard this as a myth. We knew that Lord Canning had been carefully trained in habits of business, and hoped that he would act in a manner worthy of his great name. We regret extremely that our anticipations have not been fulfilled; the files of Indian papers to hand are filled with severe and, apparently, well-founded critiques on the governor- general's policy. They state that he has shut himself up from the remonstrances of those persons who are well acquainted with the nature of the Hindoos, and have a deep stake in the welfare of the country, and is blindly led by the prejudices and shortsighted policy of his immediate entourage. The law respecting the press appears to afford confirmation of this unpleasant rumour; for it is one of the "maddest things ever done," to quote Lord Canning's own remarks about Mr. Colvin's ill-judged manifesto. Pursuing that fatal system of conciliation which, during the existence of the mutiny, will only be regarded by the natives as a proof of weakness, in his desire to fetter the native press, the governor-general has offended his most honest supporters, the representatives of the English press; even the Friend of India has received a first warning because it had the courage to point out abuses, and offer suggestions for their remedy. At a moment like the present, when the friends of government might almost be counted, so general is the dissatisfaction, no more suicidal policy could be attempted than restraining the openly expressed opinions of those persons who are most competent to judge of the real condition of India.
We fear that we have taken but a gloomy view of Indian matters, so far as we are hitherto acquainted with them; but this does not result from any want of confidence in the issue. We feel perfectly certain that India will be reconquered, and that the British government will be re-established even stronger than before, but we regret that men should be passed over whose talents and reputation would guarantee a rapid remedy of ill. For the last twenty years, our system of Indian government has been deteriorating, and whenever a good man has by accident been entrusted with the management of affairs, he has been recalled to make room for incapacities. We can all remember the satisfaction felt in England when the reign of Lord Auckland was put an end to, after he had caused our best blood to be shed in Afghanistan; but was his successor, Lord Ellenborough, treated fairly? His rule—and this even his opponents will allow—was bold and decisive. Although he committed some errors, principally in his language, his views were original and masterly. At any rate, he upheld the greatness of the British name in India. And his reward? The Court of Directors recalled Lord Ellenborough towards the end of April, 1844, without asking the consent of her Majesty's ministers, and apparently without even consulting with them. Lord Ellenborough retrieved our honour and prestige in Afghanistan; he recovered our captives when on their way to slavery among the barbarians of Central Asia; he broke up the shameful government of the Ameers in Scinde; he trampled out, at Gwalior, the last spark of that Mahratta fire which had so often set India in a blaze; he found the army disheartened, and a notorious want of discipline in a great portion of it, and he left that army full of heart and confidence, with its discipline restored. Such were the achievements of Lord Ellenborough, recalled to make room for Lord Dalhousie, who, by pursuing an insane system of annexation, left Delhi and the North-West Provinces an easy prey to the mutineers of that army of which he so jactantly said, "The position of the British Sepoy in India has long been such as to leave hardly any circumstance of his condition in need of improvement." But the whirligigs of time bring strange revenges, and Lord Ellenborough, the contemned of the directors, now possesses the ear of the senate and of the public out of doors. He is the only recognised authority on Indian topics, and to him we are indebted, in great measure, for that increased energy the government has lately begun to display.
But, although the affairs of India are in a gloomy condition, owing to the incapacity which allowed the insurrection to attain such proportions before any steps were taken for its suppression, we would not be regarded as advocates of the Manchester school of policy, or recommending the surrender of India because it will cost us so large a sum to recover; on the contrary, we urge immediate steps for the tranquillity of our Eastern possessions, and deem no sacrifice too great by which that consummation can be obtained. We consider that the mutiny or insurrection, or whatever it may be, must be coped with, and the most exemplary severity displayed against the ruffians who have so ruthlessly shed English blood. For them there is no excuse, no palliation; and while yielding to the lust of power, they have degraded themselves below the level of brutes. Every wretch who has been engaged in these fearful excesses must be exterminated, trodden under foot like noxious vermin. And this chastisement we may safely leave to our brethren in arms, who are disposed to show no mercy. So long as one spark of mutiny is still smouldering, we must be betrayed into no concession, but be actuated by a stern and righteous spirit of vengeance. Only in such a way can we ensure the future tranquillity of India.
But there are limits to our vengeance: though stern, we must be just, and, while punishing the malefactors, we must not wreak our fury on the emblems of that religion, in whose unhallowed name these outrages have been committed. We must strive to draw a line between the satisfaction of our vengeance and the dictates of our policy; and so soon as concession can assume the graceful proportions of magnanimity, let us seek to revert to that conciliatory policy in religious matters which was for so long our greatest protection. The first great step towards reconciliation will be found in the abolition of the self-condemned Company, and in the government of India emanating directly from the Queen. The evil results of Leadenhall- street rule are exemplified in the insurrection we have now so deeply to deplore. Had it not been that injustice is synonymous with John Company, there would have been no occasion to despatch a large army to Hindostan for the purpose of putting down a mere Sepoy insurrection, as the directors would so much like to prove it. Were it so, if the nation at large were with us, the Indian government would have had no difficulty in putting down this revolt. Ten times as many Sepoys as those who have revolted could have been armed and enrolled from among the warlike tribes dwelling in the districts between Calcutta and Delhi. The Europeans in Calcutta appear, however, to put no faith in the natives, for they are enrolling themselves in self-defence, and with each mail we find stronger evidence that the nation is prepared to rise en masse against us, so soon as a reasonable guarantee of success presents itself. But Lord Ellenborough has best described the Board of Directors, when he said that they resembled the ostrich, which, thrusting its head into the sand, imagines that it is safe. But this is a question which we have no doubt will be fully ventilated in the next session of parliament. One thing we may, however, venture to predict. The British nation will demand, as the recompense for so much blood and treasure lavishly expended, the most uncompromising scrutiny, and if the result prove that the East India Company is responsible for the present fearful crisis, no half measures will suffice. The knell of the Company will be rung to inaugurate, we trust, a better and a happier state of things.
For the present, the issue is in the hands of Lord Palmerston, and on his measures depends the termination of the struggle. He will require great energy and stern determination, and if he display these qualities, the nation at large will not be backward in supporting him, if necessary, with its last man and its last shilling. India must be reconquered, and Lord Palmerston has an unparalleled opportunity for displaying those administrative talents which he undoubtedly possesses. In the words of Lord Ellenborough, it depends upon our premier "whether he shall obtain for himself a reputation like Lord Chatham, or allow his government to go down as the most calamitous, the most disastrous, and the most disgraceful since the time of Lord North."
Last modified 8 October 2007