THE successive announcements conveyed by the Indian mails have familiarized our readers with atrocities compared with which the Black-hole at Calcutta, and the Massacre at Patna in the last century, are as nothing, and which rival in extent and in depth, though happily not in their results, the Sicilian Vespers. We all pretty well know by this time of what vile materials our vaunted Sepoy army was composed; how the fiery cross of rebellion, leaping from point to point, has encircled some of our fairer provinces; how band after band has caught the contagion of disloyalty; how many happy homes have been rendered desolate; how vast has been the sacrifice, not only of property and treasure, but of the lives of soldiers and civilians representing so much that we had reason to be proud of, so much of sterling ability, administrative talent, and chivalrous zeal. These things, we say, are unhappily too well known to thousands who hitherto thought, and cared less, in their daily life, for India than they did of the North-West Passage or the gold fields of Australia. It is not, then, our intention to go step by step over the events of the last six months, and to trace each successive development of the rebellion, but we think it time to draw attention to some startling facts which the mutiny has disclosed, which are pregnant with instruction, and of which, in the minds of impartial thinkers, there can exist no doubt.
Whatever may be the verdict of history on the conduct of those who in their several departments were charged with the maintenance of order, the prevention of disturbance, or the infliction of signal and salutary chastisement on the mutineers, there will be but one verdict as to the conduct of the Sepoy himself. The most unjust depreciation of native character would fail to reach the depth to which the native has sunk by his own unparalleled treacheries. It will take years to conquer the distrust with which the European residents in India will continue to look on the comrades and descendents of men who, to use the well-known language of Burke, compounded all the materials of fury, havoc, and desolation into one black cloud. It will require many more than the not uncommon instances of loyalty, devotion, and kindness, which are coming to light, ere posterity will consent to acknowledge such as the slightest set-off to broken promises, dishonoured women, murdered officers, and mangled babies. From no such hideous of vile passion has the veil been ever so suddenly torn away. The invention of the dramatist has failed to conceive such a precipitous descent from so great an elevation. The transformation of Lord Angelo from the chaste judge to the pernicious caitiff-deputy, was less sudden. Faithless to his salt, and true to his vile instincts, the Sepoy has all at once become revealed to us as a practised torturer, a cowardly assassin, and a lustful fiend.
It may appear difficult on reviewing the mutiny, to separate the military from the national element. For, on the one hand, it is indisputable that where there were no Sepoys, there have been no disturbances; that in no single instance has there been the slightest interruption to peace, order, and civil government until the troops had broken out in open mutiny, and that in some remarkable instances, where the Sepoys went off without committing their usual atrocities, the business of the civil authorities was hardly interrupted for a single day. On the other, it is beyond question that when once the horrid programme of murder, rape, and arson had been punctually played out by the soldiery, not only were the scum and dregs of the population, aided by convicts, anxious not to be behind hand in deeds of rapine and violence, but their ranks were recruited, and in some instances led, by Zemindars of seeming respectability, and by officials of every degree, from mere policemen with brass badges, to men of education and rank employed in the collection of the revenue and in the administration of justice on adequate, not to say ample, salaries, and enjoying a position which conferred security and something of dignity, if it barred ambition. The discrepancy we think we can explain. There are a considerable class of Orientals who are plunderers at heart. Nothing is so attractive to them as the prospect of a 'Loot.' The vigour of our rule had driven some bad characters to holes and corners, had transported others, had forced some to assume the semblance of a decent livlihood, and had taught all that, however they might prey upon each other, the treasure chest of Government and the private property of European officials were to be exempt from lawless touch. This was tacitly acknowledged by dacoits and burglars, by professional clubmen ready to defy the executive at the bidding of a powerful landlord, and by some of the landholders themselves, who felt the constraints of civilization, and who longed for the days of 'rugging and rieving.' These half-civilized men knew the British Government only through its local representatives and their treasures, gaols, and public offices. The Company was displayed to them in the shape of two or three officials in broad white hats and alpaca coats. As long as the gaol was filled with convicts, the office with suitors, and the collectorate with rupees—so long, under the presumed auspices of the Company, the daily business of thousands in a large and populous district flowed in its usual channel. But when the treasury had been rifled, the magistrate or judge shot, and a host of liberated gaol-birds had swept through the station, firing houses, carrying off loads of plate and valuables, and smashing every article of convenience and luxury which spoke of superior intelligence and civilization—all order and government was extinguished at once. Every man hastened to share in the spoil. Servants were seen ransacking the wardrobes of their masters; an ancient feud of long standing between the agriculturalists of two coterminous villages was suddenly revived. Native of various degrees seemed to have made the sudden discovery that for the last half century they had been living under a domination which, though a just and equitable one, was that of a foreign emperor. By this revelation were called forth all the feelings of dormant shame and of national vanity, all the feelings which make inferior races hate, as well as dread and respect, the intelligence and might of superior races; all the feelings which brought the savage and the man of violence to destroy in sheer wantonness every evidence of progress, of refinement, and of discipline and law. The telegraph was cut through. Bridges were broken down. Bungalows, police stations, roads, and embankments, were involved in a common ruin. These were the acts of ignorant, uneducated men of both religions. In some few instances, private and personal motives led to revenge. The most flagrant case is that of the miscreant Nana, whose cause of quarrel with the British Government is, that, as an adopted son, he no longer enjoys the absurdly lavish pension of £80,000 a year, which had been enjoyed for thirty years by an ex-prince of a modern dynasty of robber-kings. Again, as the very openness of the mutiny revealed the sources of disaffection, it was gradually discovered that the mainspring was not religious, nor hardly military, but political, that a plot had for some time been forming, which had for its object the restoration of the Emperor of Delhi, cannot be questioned. Nor does there seem ground for doubting the complicity of the King of Oude, who with one hand was despatching emissaries to Lucknow, and with the other laying petitions before the Houses of Parliament. Thus, as it appears to us, the mutiny of the army was a mutiny for political objects, cloaked by a religious grievance, which was speedily abandoned, but without a primary connexion with civil insubordination and discontent. Once, however, the Sepoy had raised the standard of rebellion, he aroused, fed, and carried along with him in his march of desolation every element of wounded vanity, ungovernable passion, and innate love of spoil.
One moral to be drawn from the above is, we think, sufficiently obvious. The denouements of the King of Oude and of the Nana Sahib should lead to our discouraging dethroned princes, who have lately made it a practice to visit England, seeking to excite a spurious sympathy in crowded drawing rooms, and to enlist on behalf of their impudent pretensions the support of adventurers in one House, and ill-advised peers in the other. We have reason to know that it did sound painful to men in India to hear of feasts provided and receptions accorded to the royal family of Oude in England, when revolt was encouraged and assassination recommended under colour of their name, if not by the king's express authority in India. We could wish, too, that some of the Mayfair dowagers who think it fashionable to press their attentions on dark-coloured strangers in jewelled turbans and cloth of gold, could only get one glimpse at the real state of a native's feelings with regard to women, and could understand the bitter contempt with which such a one regards conduct that, in the evil imagination of an Oriental, can proceed from one motive alone.
Another obvious moral is, that we must remodel the Bengal army, if we are henceforth to have a native army, both as to substance, numbers, and discipline. On the first head all men are pretty well agreed that we have had a deal too much of high-caste gentlemen, puffed up with family and religious pride, who were often unequal to cope with such enemies as the Seikhs, and whose bravery has been reserved to be displayed against women and children, and unarmed Europeans. As to the second, it is difficult to see what we want with seventy-four regiments of regulars, besides our many active irregulars, our Seikh levies, and our compact and well-appointed European force. And as to the last head, without falling back on the state of things in which an Englishman was supposed to be a good Sepoy officer in proportion as he was a bad man morally and kept a native mistress, we may plead for a closer union between men and their commanders, and for more extensive powers to be conceded to those who are at the head of one, two, or three thousand troops. Other general improvements in the administration of the empire will go hand in hand with the above. When the land shall have been reconquered and order re- established, there must be railways to connect with each other the great military stations, amongst which Delhi will be no longer numbered. We must have strong and healthy forts in various commanding stations, garrisoned by English soldiers, with a proportion of Seikhs. There should be at every such post the means of moving a compact body of troops, with artillery, to put down the first risings of discontent. And in order to preclude all possibility of those excesses which have been committed by petty chiefs, by hereditary cattle- stealers, by offenders skulking from the search of justice, by villagers ready for raids and forays, and by all scoundrels who followed in the wake of a rebellious soldiery, there must be a full and complete disarming of the whole population of India. Such a measure, though comprehensive and perhaps startling to some English ears, will be no new measure. It has been tried and found successful, not amongst a weak and effeminate people, such as the dwellers by the Lower Ganges, but with the most warlike, stalwart, and independent population of any under our rule: a population where men ploughed, literally, with the matchlock and sword at their side, and amongst whom the blacksmiths and armourers outnumbered the men of any other two trades put together; we allude, of course, to the Punjab. Amongst the many wise measures adopted for the discipline of that splendid province, this one, conceived by Lord Dalhousie and carried out by the Lawrences, has resulted in the triumph of order and security in the midst of anarchy and misrule. We require such a step to aid the civil administrator in other parts of India, whether they have been the theatre of rebellion or not. In the Agra Presidency, which we have held for fifty years with scarce a disturbance, it will be imperative for the coercion of landholders who have dared to proclaim their own independence, and of the bad spirits who, drunk with excitement and plunder, have now begun to fight amongst themselves. It must be carried out in Oude, though every mud fort there should bristle with cannon, and every village be filled with musketeers. In Behar, which, through almost incredible mismanagement, has been the scene of partial revolt, it will be essential for the vindication of our dignity. And in Bengal, happily free from disturbance of any kind, it may still be vigorously enforced with a view to the prevention of those disgraceful affrays between the tenants and the retainers of rival landholders, by which, in the oldest and richest of our provinces, agrarian outrage is more common, property is less secure, and the executive power is less formidable than it is in districts which have recruited our armies, and where every other inhabitant is a soldier born.
There will be other measures more immediately connected with the progress of revolt. There will be numerous confiscations of lands and houses. There are scores of fit objects for the cord and the whip. On the other hand, there are many men, both Hindus and Mahommedans, who have signalized their faith and loyalty by rescuing and protecting our countrymen and countrywomen, under remarkable temptations, in the hour of their distress. One most notable instance occurred on the frontiers of Oude. Some of the officials fled from the station of Futtehghar when it was captured, and sought refuge with a neighbouring Zemindar in Oude. Surrounded by rebels, taunted by some men, threatened by others, and tempted by all, this man, a Hindu, by name Hur Deo Bux, kept the fugitives in his fort for more than a month, till he found means to convey them in safety to the British camp. It appeared that some twenty years ago this man's father, flying from the tender mercies of the paternal Government of Oude, sought shelter with the magistrate of Futtehghar, the late Mr. F. H. Robinson, who refused, at all hazards, to surrender him to the requisition of the Court of Lucknow. Gratitude for this act descended from the father to the son, who has now nobly redeemed the debt incurred by his parent. Lands confiscated from rebels may fittingly be bestowed on men like these. But there must be other measures enforced to reimburse the State for its enormous losses in stock, in money, and in public works. What may be the exact intentions of the Indian Government on this score we know not, but we do know that mild measures, or general amnesties, or comprehensive immunities to the authors of the mischief, will have a very bad effect. It will not be sufficient for the restoration of our dominion to hang a few rebel Zemindars, or to blow away a score of mutineers from their own guns: where wanton damage has been caused to public buildings or works, it should be repaid by the exaction of benevolences from those in the neighbourhood who are able to pay, and by a system of forced labour from those who are not. Men who have been lukewarm or indifferent, and have given no aid to our officials and soldiers, or who have endeavoured just to keep within the windy side of the law, should be roundly fined. Whether this mode of proceeding be constitutional or not, we should hardly inquire, because we are quite certain that it is the only thing suited to the constitution of the Asiatic. The time is past for soothing proclamations and promises of religious impartiality; the first of which will be ridiculed, and the latter disregarded, because the mass know full well that no interference with their religious practices has ever been attempted. What they require to be taught is, that the British Government, which in equity, in good faith, and in liberality to its servants, transcends the equity of Noushirvan and the generosity of Hatim, can, like a despotic Government, be stern in its anger, sharp in its retribution, and terrible in its justice. It is, indeed, no longer a time to
Make a deep scrutiny
Into the mutiny
Rash and undutiful.
It is a time to be up and doing. The blood of massacred families, the honour of women which has been insulted and defiled, the dignity of our nation which has been trampled on, the prestige of our power which has been effaced, call loudly for reparation or for revenge: sharp, signal, and awe-inspiring must that revenge be. When this stern duty is fulfilled, it will be time to inquire into the origin of the rebellion or to search for adequate means by which all rebellion shall henceforth be rendered impossible.
Jessore, Sept. 20, 1857.
Last modified 2 October 2007