Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/228

This page needs to be proofread.

224 THE MUTINY. the Central Provinces, British Burma, were administered to a large extent by picked officers from the Company's regiments. Good and skilful commanders remained ; but the Native army had nevertheless been drained of many of its brightest intellects and firmest wills at the very crisis of its fate. At the same time the British troops in India had, in spite of Lord Dalhousie's remonstrances, been reduced far below the strength which the great Governor-General declared tb be essential to the safety of our rule. His earnest representations on this subject, and as to the urgent necessity for a reform alike of the Native and the British armies of India, were lying disregarded in London when the panic about the 'greased cartridges' spread through the Native regiments, and the storm burst upon Bengal. Outbreak of the Mutiny, May 1857. — On the afternoon of Sunday, 10th May 1857, the sepoys at Meerut (Mfrath) broke into open mutiny. They forced open the jail, and rushed in a wild torrent through the cantonments, cutting down any European whom they met. They then streamed off to the neighbouring city of Delhi, to stir up the Native garrison and the criminal population of that great city, and to place them- selves under the authority of the discrowned Mughal emperor. Meerut was then the largest military station in Northern India, with a strong European garrison of foot, horse, and guns, suffi- cient to overwhelm the mutineers long before they could have reached Delhi. But as the Sepoys acted in irrational panic, so the British officers, in but too many cases, behaved with equally irrational indecision. The news of the outbreak was telegraphed to Delhi, and nothing more was done at Meerut that night. At the moment when one strong will might have saved India, no soldier in authority at Meerut seemed able to think or act. The next morning the Muhammadans of Delhi rose, and all that the Europeans there could do was to blow up the magazine. Spread of the Mutiny, June 1857. — A rallying centre and a traditional name were thus given to the revolt, which forth- with spread like wild-fire through the North- Western Provinces and Oudh down into Lower Bengal. The same narrative must suffice for all the outbreaks, although each episode has its own story of sadness and devotion. The sepoys rose on their officers,