Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

plunder the dwellings of the British. A few of the mutineers took part in this work; but the great majority of them, fearing the vengeance of the British troops, hastened to move off, rather a mob than an army, upon the Delhi road. There is a general agreement that if a man like Gillespie or Nicholson had been in command of the station, the strong force at his disposal would have enabled him to strike such a deadly blow at the fleeing mutineers as might have stamped out the Mutiny. But Hewitt was too old and Wilson was lacking in initiative; the opportunity was lost, and no attempt was made to do more than clear the cantonments.

So many of the chief actors in the Mutiny on the native side carried their secrets into dishonoured graves that it is impossible to know exactly what schemes the household of the king of Delhi had concerted with the disaffected sepoys. The Revolt of Delhi. But when the mutineers reached Delhi they were at once joined by the city mob and the king’s guards in proclaiming a revival of the Mogul empire. For a few hours the native troops of the British garrison awaited the turn of events; but when it became apparent that the British troops from Meerut were afraid to move, there was a general flame of revolt, and Delhi at once became the headquarters of the Mutiny. Most of the British officers and residents were massacred then or afterwards. The great magazine was gallantly defended for a time by nine Britons under Lieutenant Willoughby, and was blown up by them when all hope of relief had vanished. A young telegraph clerk sent the news to Umballa, continuing to signal until he was cut down at his post. Before the authorities in Calcutta and Lahore could take any steps to deal with the long-prophesied danger, the whole of the North-West Provinces were in revolt. Fortunately the two men on whom the chief responsibility fell in this great crisis were equal to their task. Canning in Calcutta, John Lawrence in the Punjab, were men indeed equal to any burden; and the stress of the Mutiny, ending once and forever the bad old system of seniority, brought to the front so many subordinates of dauntless gallantry and soldierly insight that a ring of steel was rapidly drawn round the vast territory affected. Lawrence saw that the surest way to prevent the Mutiny from spreading from the sepoy army of Bengal to the recently conquered fighting races of the Punjab was to hurl the Sikh at the Hindu; instead of taking measures for the defence of the Punjab, he acted on the old principle that the best defence is attack, and promptly organized a force for the reduction of Delhi, with the ardent co-operation of born leaders like John Nicholson, Neville Chamberlain and Herbert Edwardes. Anson, the commander-in-chief, died of cholera before he had had a chance to act on Lawrence’s telegram, “Clubs, not spades, are trumps.” He was succeeded by Sir Henry Barnard in command of the Delhi field force, then amounting to about 3000 British troops with 22 field guns, in addition to a few Gurkhas and Punjab native troops. The loyalty of the independent Sikh chiefs, headed by Patiala, and the stern measures which had been taken with the sepoy regiments enabled Lawrence to reinforce this little army with every available man and gun from the Punjab, in addition to Sikh and Pathan levies. It was to the insight of Lawrence and the splendid organization of the Punjab province—the spoilt child of the Indian government, as it had been called in allusion to the custom of sending thither the best of the Indian officials and soldiers—that the reduction of Delhi and the limitation of the outbreak were due. Meantime Canning was manfully playing his part at Calcutta. In the hour of danger he was undismayed, as in the hour of victory he was just and merciful. He telegraphed for reliefs from every available quarter, fortunately being able to divert the troops then on their way to China. The native armies of Bombay and Madras remained loyal, and the former in particular—thanks to Lord Elphinstone—furnished valuable reinforcements. Sir Colin Campbell, a veteran soldier whose laurels had been won in many battles from the Peninsula to the Crimea, was despatched from England to take command of the army in India. But even before he could arrive, the outspread of the Mutiny had already been checked by the gallantry and skill of a mere handful of Britons and their faithful native allies.

Canning and Lawrence, at opposite ends of the disaffected districts, alike perceived that Delhi was the centre of peril, and that all other considerations must be subordinated to striking a decisive blow at that historic city. Both The Siege of Delhi. flung to the winds the European rules of warfare, which highly trained officers like Wilson had allowed to hamper their movements. “Make as short work as possible of the rebels,” wrote Canning. “Where have we failed when we acted vigorously?” asked Lawrence. Though the nominal commanders of the army which captured Delhi were in turn Barnard, Reed and Wilson, the policy thus stated by Canning and Lawrence was really carried out by their subordinates—Baird Smith, Nicholson and Chamberlain. The Meerut troops, at last roused from their inaction, joined Barnard on the 7th of June, after a successful affair with the mutineers, and the next day the action of Badli-ki-Serai enabled the British force to occupy the famous Ridge, which they never abandoned till the final assault. At first the British troops, outnumbered by more than three to one by the mutinous regiments alone, were rather besieged than besiegers. Baird Smith indeed urged an immediate assault upon Delhi, on the ground that audacity is the best policy in Indian warfare; but it was not until the arrival of Nicholson on the 7th of August with the last Punjab reinforcements that the force was strong enough, in the opinion of its commander, to take offensive action. On the 14th of September, after three days of artillery preparation, the assault was delivered, under Nicholson’s leadership. Two practicable breaches had been made by the siege guns, and a party of engineers under Home and Salkeld blew in the Kashmir gate. The assault was successful, in so far as a firm lodgment was made in the city, though the loss of Nicholson was a heavy price to pay for this success. Wilson actually thought of retreating; but Baird Smith and Chamberlain insisted on perseverance, and the city was captured after six days’ hard fighting. The mutineers were completely cowed; the king of Delhi was taken and reserved for trial; and his sons were shot by Captain Hodson, after unconditional surrender, an act which has since been the theme of much reprobation, but which commended itself at the time to Hodson’s comrades as wise and justifiable. The siege of Delhi, which was the turning-point of the Mutiny, had lasted for more than three months, during which thirty minor actions had been fought in the almost intolerable heat of the Indian midsummer.

The stern determination of the British troops, which alone made possible the reduction of Delhi with so inadequate a force, was intensified, if possible, by the ghastly story of Cawnpore. That important military station, lying The Massacre at Cawnpore. on the Ganges on the confines of Oudh, was under the command of Sir Hugh Wheeler, an old but still efficient and experienced officer. It was garrisoned by about 3000 native troops, with a mere handful of white soldiers. When the news of the Meerut outbreak reached Wheeler, who had already noted many symptoms of disaffection in his own station, he was placed in a very difficult position. Under his care was a large body of non-combatants—women and children in great numbers among them. To occupy the one defensible position in the station, the magazine by the river with its vast military stores and its substantial masonry walls, would have involved steps which Wheeler regarded as certain to precipitate an outbreak. It was then thought that, if the sepoys mutinied, they would march off to Delhi, and Wheeler contented himself by throwing up a rude entrenchment round the hospital barracks, where he thought that the Europeans would be safe during the first tumult of a rising. All might have fallen out as he anticipated, had it not been that the Nana Sahib, the adopted heir of the late peshwa, was rajah of Bithur in the neighbourhood. This young Mahratta, since known to universal execration as the arch-villain of the Mutiny, was secretly burning with a sense of injury received from the Indian government. He was also ambitious; and when, on the 4th of June, the Cawnpore garrison