A post-colonial interpretation based on Britain's depredations religious, economic, and cultural in the Indian subcontinent would probably not have occurred to Collins's first readers. Today at the Government of India website one may read of the justifications for the rebellion:

The newcomers [the British and French] soon developed rivalries among themselves and allied with local rulers to consolidate their positions against each other militarily. In time they developed territorial and political ambitions of their own and manipulated local rivalries and enmities to their own advantage. The ultimate victors were the British, who established political supremacy over eastern India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. They gradually extended their rule over the entire subcontinent, either by direct annexation, or by exercising suzerainty over local rajas and nawabs.

Unlike all former rulers, the British did not settle in India to form a new local empire. The English East India Company continued its commercial activities and India became 'the Jewel in the Crown' of the British empire, giving an enormous boost to the nascent Industrial Revolution by providing cheap raw materials, capital and a large captive market for British industry. The land was reorganised under the harsh Zamindari system to facilitate the collection of taxes to enrich British coffers. In certain areas farmers were forced to switch from subsistence farming to commercial crops such as indigo, jute, coffee and tea. This resulted in several famines of unprecedented scale.

In the first half of the 19th century, the British extended their hold over many Indian territories. A large part of the subcontinent was brought under the Company's direct administration; in some parts local rulers were retained as subsidiaries of the Company, militarily and administratively completely at its mercy and yielding to it an overwhelming portion of the revenues. By 1857, "the British empire in India had become the British empire of India." The means employed to achieve this were unrestrained and no scruple was allowed to interfere with the imperial ambition.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 or The First War of Independence A century of accumulated grievances erupted in the Indian mutiny of Sepoys in the British army, in 1857. This was the signal for a spontaneous conflagration, in which the princely rulers, landed aristocracy and peasantry rallied against the British around the person of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah. The uprising, however, was eventually brutally suppressed. By the end of 1859, the "emperor" had been deported to Burma where he died a lonely death, bringing to a formal end the era of Mughal rule in India. The Mutiny, even in its failure, produced many heroes and heroines of epic character. Above all, it produced a sense of unity between the Hindus and the Muslims of India that was to be witnessed in later years. The rebellion also saw the end of the East India Company's rule in India. Power was transferred to the British Crown in 1858 by an Act of British Parliament. The Crown's viceroy in India was to be the chief executive.


Victorian Web Victorian History British Empire>/ India

Last modified 20 November 2000