in return for a monthly wage, the Indian cavalry were almost to a man in debt, and therefore favoured any attempt to upset the existing régime, and with it to wipe out the money-lender and his books; and the general enlistment order passed in July 1856, for the purposes of the war in Persia, made the Hindu sepoys afraid of losing caste by crossing the sea.
The Indian government failed to take sufficient account of the social and religious feelings of their native soldiers, whilst a rigid insistence on the principle of seniority had greatly diminished the efficiency of the British regimental officers. Out of 73 mutinous regiments, only four colonels were found worthy of other commands. At the same time, there were deeper reasons for discontent with British rule, which specially affected, the classes from which the Bengal sepoys were drawn. Chief among these was Dalhousie’s policy of annexation, which brought under British dominion such small states as Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi, and finally the kingdom of Oudh. The insistence on the right of lapse, i.e. the refusal to allow an adopted, son to inherit a native throne, and the threat of annexation on purely humanitarian grounds seriously alarmed the native princes of India, besides creating a class of malcontents, among whom the Nana Sahib, the adopted heir of the peshwa, made himself most infamous. The annexation of Oudh, which was the chief recruiting ground of the Bengal army, probably caused wider disaffection in the ranks of that army than any other act or omission of the government. There can also be little doubt that the social reforms of Lord Dalhousie and his predecessors had disturbed men’s minds in Bengal. Thus the Brahmans were offended at the prohibition of suttee and female infanticide, the execution of Brahmans for capital offences, the re-marriage of widows, the spread of missionary effort and the extension of Western education. The Mahommedan zemindars were injured by the reassessment of the land revenue, which was carried through in the interests of the ryots, and the power of the zemindars was formidable, while that of the ryots was negligible; though it must be remembered that the peasantry as a whole gave no assistance to the mutineers. To all these causes must be added—not least important in dealing with orientals—the widespread feeling since the Afghan disaster that the star of the company was in the descendant, and that there was truth in the old prophecy that the British would rule in India for a bare century from Plassey (1757). Bazaar rumours of British reverses in the Crimea and in Persia increased the temptations for a general rising against the dominant race.
To this accumulation of inflammatory materials a spark was put in 1857 by an act of almost incredible folly on the part of the military authorities in India. The introduction of the Minié rifle, with its greased cartridges, was The greased cartridges. accompanied by no consideration of the religious prejudices of the Bengal sepoys, to whom, whether Hindus or Mahommedans, the fat of cows and pigs was anathema. It was easy for agitators to persuade the sepoys that the new cartridges were greased with the fat of animals sacred to one creed or forbidden to another, and that the British government was thus engaged in a deep-laid plot for forcing them to become Christians by first making them outcasts from their own religions. The growth of missionary enterprise in India lent colour to this theory, which was supported by the fact that no precautions had been taken to grease the Indian cartridges with a neutral fat, such as that of sheep and goats. The researches of Mr G. W. Forrest in the Indian government records have shown that the sepoys’ fears of defilement by biting the new cartridges had a considerable foundation in fact. At a court-martial in 1857 Colonel Abbott, inspector general of ordnance, gave evidence that “the tallow might or might not have contained the fat of cows.” No attempt, in fact, had been made to exclude the fat of cows and pigs, and apparently no one had realized that a gross outrage was thus being perpetrated on the religious feelings of both Hindu and Mahommedan sepoys. The low-caste natives employed in the arsenals knew what grease was actually being employed, and taunted the Brahman sepoys with the loss of caste that would follow their use of the new cartridges. Refusals to accept the suspected cartridges were soon heard in the Bengal army. The numerous agitators who had their own reasons for fomenting mutiny rose to the occasion, and In the first months of 1857 the greater part of the Bengal presidency was seething with sedition. At this time took place the mysterious distribution of chapatis, small cakes of unleavened bread, which had previously been known in connexion with the mutiny at Vellore (1806). “From village to village, from district to district, through hill-land and lowland, the signal—unexplained at the time, inexplicable still—sped; and in village after village, in district after district, the spreading of the signal was followed by the Increased excitement of the people.”
The first signs of the approaching trouble were displayed at the great military station of Barrackpur, 16 m. from Calcutta, in January 1857. The minds of the native regiments quartered there were maddened by rumours of the defilement which the new Minié cartridges would entail upon them, and incendiary fires broke out in the lines. The trouble was allayed by the tact of General Hearsey, who reported the incident to the Indian government on the 24th of January. A fortnight later he wrote, as the result of his inquiries, “We have at Barrackpur been dwelling upon a mine ready for explosion.” At Berhampur, 100 m. to the north, on the 27th of February, the 19th Bengal infantry refused on parade to take their percussion caps, on the ground that to bite the new cartridges would defile them. The absence of any European troops made it impossible to deal with this act of mutiny on the spot. The defaulting regiment was marched down to Barrackpur for punishment. On the 29th of March, two days before its arrival, a sepoy named Manghal Pandi, from whom the mutineers afterwards came to be spoken of as “Pandies,” drunk with bhang and enthusiasm, attempted to provoke a mutiny in the 34th Bengal infantry, and shot the adjutant, but Hearsey’s personal courage suppressed the danger. Two days later the 19th were publicly disbanded, but no further punishment was attempted. This was partly due to Lord Canning’s personal inclination to temper justice with mercy, but partly also to the fact that there was no adequate European force at hand to execute a severer sentence. Bengal had been recklessly depleted of white troops, and there was only one European regiment between Calcutta and Dinapur, a distance of 400 m. Canning sent at once for more British troops from Burma. Meantime new accounts of refusals to use even the old cartridges came from distant parts of Hindostan, from Umballa under the very eyes of Anson, the commander-in-chief, and from Lucknow, the capital of the newly annexed kingdom of Oudh. Lord Canning, the governor-general, who had at first hoped that he had only to deal with isolated cases of disaffection, at last recognized that the plague was epidemic, and that only stern measures could stay it. But before he could take the necessary steps, there reached Calcutta the news of the outbreak at Meerut and the capture of Delhi.
Meerut, 25 m. from Delhi, was an important military station, under the command of Colonel Archdale Wilson: the district was commanded by General Hewitt, one of the old and inefficient officers whom the rigid system of The outbreak at Meerut. seniority had placed in so many high commands. At Meerut were quartered, besides one regiment of native cavalry and two of native infantry, a strong force of British troops, horse, foot and guns. Nevertheless, 85 men of the native cavalry regiment, driven to despair by the persistent rumours of the danger to their caste, refused on the 24th of April to accept their cartridges. For this offence they were condemned to ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour on the roads, and on the 9th of May they were publicly stripped of their uniforms and marched off to gaol. The next day was a Sunday; and in the evening, whilst the British troops were parading for church, the native cavalry armed themselves, galloped to the gaol and released their comrades. Almost simultaneously the two infantry regiments shot down their officers and broke into open revolt. The badmashes, or criminal class, broke forth from their quarter and began to burn and