THE few who care about India, and the many who do not, have been alike startled from their tranquillity by the astounding news that a large body of troops, forming part of an army that within the last fifteen years has been victorious at Cabul, in China, on the land of the five rivers, and in the swamps of Burmah, had risen in open rebellion, had fired and sacked the greater part of a large civil and military station; had massacred some scores of helpless men, women, and children, and had occupied the fort and palace of the most ancient capital of India, openly proclaiming a new dynasty, and vaunting that the lease for which India had been entrusted to the Anglo-Saxon, had reached its destined end. We shall doubtless, by every successive mail, have more ample details as to the origin and progress of the disaffection in the Bengal army. At present we have quite enough to fill the minds of statesmen with anxiety, and British householders with horror. But, leaving the mutineers, their outrages, and their retribution, we think the present a suitable occasion for laying before our readers some particulars of an outbreak which, if we mistake not, will form an eventful period in Indian history. Our facts have been collected from many sources, and may be relied on with security.
It is one hundred years ago last month that a young captain, bred in the counting-house, was standing at the head of three thousand troops, victorious over a native army of fifty thousand, on a battle-field which was the first in a long line of triumphs, and which virtually gave us possession of a kingdom larger than Great Britain. A centenary is always an event in the annals of any nation—and in one prone to watch omens, to discover coincidences, and to compare seasons and times, there have not been wanting men who scattered the ambiguae voces amongst an excitable soldiery and a credulous population, and who gave out that the lease of one hundred years, which Providence had granted to the great Company Bahadoor, had now run its course, and that the golden opportunity, the splendid prize, was in the grasp of the swordsman who possessed a sharp weapon, a cool head, and a resolute heart. There were other considerations of an uneasy feeling, showing that something was going on in secret which the skill of administrators could hardly fathom. During the spring of the year some messages, mysterious, inexplicable, and yet ubiquitous, had been conveyed from one village to another over large tracts of land with inconceivable rapidity. The message, whatever might be its import, was sent in a small thin cake . It was, men said, intended to avert the cholera,—it was to scare away the evil demon of smallpox. The solution of the mystery has not yet been made. But a strong, and not altogether groundless feeling exists in India that in some manner it was connected with the mutiny of the sepoys. We have had, ere this, sepoys in arms against us. There was a mutiny at Vellore, at the commencement of this century, which some men referred to the House of Tippoo, and others to the dread of interference with religion and caste. There was a mutiny at Barrackpore, just thirty-one years' ago, which arose from a dislike to foreign service in the first Burmese war. But an open mutiny of so many thousand soldiers, in a city so important for commercial and political reasons as Delhi, marked by atrocities which 'the sanctity of nature, and the reverence for justice, dares not to pursue, nor even venture to describe,' as yet traceable to no one single cause, and yet inseparably connected with a bad state of feeling and a partial demoralization in many other military stations,—such a mutiny the most careful student of history had failed to remember, and the most far-sighted statesman had not even ventured to conceive.
'Such night in India ne'er had been,
nor e'er again shall be.'
The causes of the outbreak are variously stated. Our readers will remember that we have had our warnings of the coming doom. There had been disaffection at Moorshedabad, the ancient capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, not much more than one hundred miles from Calcutta. The regiment which had misbehaved there was brought down to Barrackpore, which is exactly to Calcutta what Windsor is to St. James's, and was there disbanded, in the presence of a force of Europeans and artillery, with loaded arms and lighted portfires. Another regiment, which showed worse signs of insubordination, was similarly treated, and a sepoy and a non-commissioned officer were condemned to death and executed. Confident in its might, resistless in its orders, the Government of India shed no more blood, trusting that the terrible sentence of dismissal from its army, involving loss of honour, of employment, and of pension in old age, would operate as a warning, or recall the wavering, from motives of interest if not front motives of duty. But it was evident the sepoy was no longer what he had been. It was said long ago, in the campaign of the Sutlej, and again in the second Seikh war, that regiments had lost their discipline, their courage, and their dash. It was now clear that the courage of the soldier had given place to the ferocity of savages; and that, emancipated from the restraint of discipline, the oriental recruit became a bloodthirsty fiend. As we have said, the causes of this revolution are variously described. There is no longer, it is asserted, that kindly feeling between the men and their officers which results in mutual dependence and mutual honour. The colonel is old and incapable, or, if a true soldier, he is stripped of all power for good. The best and most promising young officers, at an early period of service, are taken from their regiments, and never return to them again. There is a splendid opening for every kind of talent for officers of the Indian army, but not in the army itself. The bold rider, the beau-sabreur, the crack-shot, is promoted to be the head of a picked irregular regiment of Seikhs, storming the village of a robber-tribe on the north-west frontier, or commanding five hundred sabres, wielded by men of the best blood, and the most honourable families of Mohammedans in the Deccan. To the man of quick perceptions, of exquisite tact, of intimate knowledge of native peculiarities, and of marvellous skill in introducing reforms, without either offending prejudice or arousing hostility, there are all the prizes of civil administration, which lead one man to a Residency, another to Council, and a third to the seals of office as pro-consul, in a new, fertile, and splendid acquisition. The regiments are sometimes left to be commanded in the day of battle, and to be guided in the hour of peace and in the dull routine of cantonments, by captains and subalterns, who despise the high-spirited native, whose speech smacks little of courtesy or encouragement, and whose pursuits never go beyond killing time with gambling, or ruining their constitutions by ardent spirits and ignominious beer. Thus, men have known but little of their officers, and officers as little of their men. Besides the above causes, there has been the wolf-cry of danger to the Hindu religion, and insult to caste. No one single instance can be quoted in which the British Government has either ordered or connived at any single act calculated to offend the most irrational or the most absurd of Hindu superstitions, or to irritate the intolerant fanaticism of Mohammedan bigots. On the contrary, the course pursued by the British Government on the score of religion, has been indulgent and considerate to what some men think as the verge of weakness. Yet the cry of dishonoured caste and insulted religion being the one most likely to inflame the soldiery, the war standard was erected by a cry of this kind; and the soldiers were taught gravely to believe that by forcing the men of one religion to bite cartridges made with bullock's fat, and the men of the other to bite cartridges made with hog's lard, the caste of both would be ruined for ever, the purpose of the British Government would be accomplished, and the sepoy would be transformed into the bondsman of the paramount power, doomed to serve where it dictated, to eat what it set before them, and to perform the most menial and degrading acts. This was the pretext, but, according to the Friend of India , one of the best authorities, the real reason at the bottom of the mutiny was a vague fear of being compelled to perform military service in European climates and against European foes. This panic, artfully worked on, coupled with the laxity of discipline, and the mutual ignorance of men and officers as to each other's condition, grew in some regiments strongly but silently, till a few mutinous, discontented, and seditious scoundrels seduced the majority of certain regiments from their allegiance, and have now read us a terrible lesson.
Yet in this fearful outbreak there is not only nothing that threatens us with the loss of our empire, but many things that prove to us that our hold on our Indian subjects was not one of mere physical grasp. Our readers perhaps do not know the exact situation of Meerut. It lies one hundred miles from the hill station of Mussoorie, and in clear weather the snowy peaks of the Himalayas are distinctly visible from the cantonment. It is twenty miles west of the Ganges on the one side, and forty-four miles east of the Jumna on the other, where this river flows immediately under the walls of imperial Delhi. Far to the west and north were several European regiments of infantry and cavalry, guarding the plains of the Punjab, and the limits of the empire which we are supposed to have reached. Far to the south again, or nearly a thousand miles off, lies the modern metropolis of India, having rapid communication by sea with Madras and Burmah, and abundant facilities for procuring reinforcements without delay. But in the vast tract between Calcutta and the Punjab were several military stations with only one European regiment a piece, and several others with nothing but native troops. The single European regiment at Agra had enough to do to provide for the security of a large town, an extensive fort, a gaol containing 3000 of the worst characters in British India, and of the government offices, archives, and treasure. A similar regiment at Dinapore, on the Ganges, could not stir a step from the vicinity of Patna, the focus and hotbed of Mohammedan intrigue. What then if the brigade at Benares should incite the three hundred thousand Hindus who dwell in that sacred city, to rise on the mere handful of officers and civilians? What if Cawnpore should mutiny, the fort at Allahabad, which commands the entrance to the Doab of Hindostan, should be occupied by the insurgents, the zemindars stand aloof, the rich merchants deny their assistance, and the populace, ground down by tyranny and extortion, seize this opportunity of wreaking their cherished revenge? The very thought might make the boldest of us tremble for our magnificent inheritance; but we are glad to say none of these events have happened, or are even likely to happen. On the contrary, the progress of disaffection amongst the troops is stayed. That of the population has never yet commenced. Of Europeans saved from the butchery at Delhi, twelve or thirteen owed their lives to the zemindars; three more were protected by a Synd, a descendant of the Prophet, as the term implies, and one not unlikely to nourish hostility against Christians. The bad characters, whom a rebellion in India, like a revolution in France, brings to light out of holes and corners, have been put down, partly by the exertions of respectable natives, and partly by the aroused energy and activity of the European functionaries. Sir John Lawrence, the able Commissioner of the Punjab, holds the reins of office so firmly and yet so easily, that he is ready to send troops to aid in subduing the malcontents. His brother, the chivalrous, high-minded soldier and civilian, rules the newly-acquired province of Oude with only murmurs of disaffection, and has just put down one other attempt at mutiny after a fashion which reminds us of the Roman general who quelled sedition by one single word. The Raja of Bhurtpore, educated and protected under the wise and fostering care of Lord Dalhousie, has sent 1000 of his choicest cavalry to our assistance and the Maharaja of Gwalior, spared when a child by the magnanimous forbearance of Lord Ellenborough, and now our steady ally, sends his bodyguard to Agra, and is profuse of earnest offers of service. Patna is not in revolt. Benares is not barricaded, the manly and energetic inhabitant of northern India is pursuing, in most districts, his ordinary caucus, and the Bayali is as quiet and stagnant as the water of own rice-fields under the midday sun.
At Calcutta, the seat of commerce and of government, everything has been done that foresight could dictate or ready invention could supply. Lord Canning has despatched his available Europeans to Benares in carriages and steamers, and has taken means for bringing round fresh regiments from Madras, Burmah, and Bombay. From all sections of the European and native community he continues to receive assurances of devotion; and the demand for guns and revolvers has been so brisk and constant as to have entirely exhausted the supply. For the outbreak, we need hardly say, Lord Canning is no more to blame than he is for the discipline of her Majesty's 46th, and in his energy and his decisive measures, in his promptitude, in his well-timed proclamations, in his judicious enlargement of the powers ordinarily exercised by local functionaries, in his appearance before the men of the 70th native infantry, and in his calmness at this trying crisis, he has borne himself in a manner worthy of the great statesman who preceded him, and of the name which he bears himself. We sincerely hope, by the way, that no organ of opinion will he unwise enough to attribute the mutiny of our soldiery to the late annexations of Lord Dalhousie. In the wisdom of his measure lies one source of our present comfort and strength. The Punjab is tranquil and subdued, and the Seikh, who opposed us in seven pitched battles, is now guarding our forts, protecting the lives of our countrywomen, and eager to try conclusions with the traitors who have proved unfaithful to their salt. Nothing that has yet transpired encourages any supposition that a sympathy for dethroned kings has stirred the feelings of the sepoys. And Burmah, instead of being a troublesome neighbour, to be watched and suspected, is a friendly country, which we can leave to the care of sepoys, who, if inclined to revolt, will hardly think of revolting amidst a foreign population. With Mr. Colvin at Agra, Sir Henry Lawrence at Lucknow, and Mr. John Grant by his side at Calcutta, the Governor-general may rest satisfied that he has wise counsellors and trusty servants to aid him in the hour of need, and that in an emergency to which the slaughter of the Khoordkabul, or the long night of Ferozshah, were trials comparatively easy to be confronted, he has done his duty wisely and well. It may be left for him, when the storm shall have blown over, to purge our army of traitors, to reform its matériel, to make the officer's ambition to be with, and not to be absent from his regiment, and to save future administrators from a second fiery ordeal, which in words not too solemn for the occasion, has been well designated as 'sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion,' and as 'battle, murder, and sudden death.'
Last modified 23 September 2007