Suppression of the revolt
Formal end of the Mughal empire
End of Company rule in India
Transfer of rule to the British Crown
British Indian Empire created out of former East
territory (some land returned to native rulers, other land confiscated
by the British crown)
Forces of Rani Laxmi bai, the deposed ruler of Jhansi
Nana Sahib Peshwa
Followers of Birjis Qadra
Followers of Babu Kunwar Singh
Followers of Drig Narayan Singh
Forces of Ballabgarh king Nahar Singh
Followers of Rewari Chief Rao Tularam
Forces of Shahmal Tomar
Kingdom of Nepal
Kingdom of Tibet
21 Princely States:
Jammu and Kashmir
Commanders and leaders
Bakht Khan †
Bahadur Shah II
Rani Lakshmibai †
Begum Hazrat Mahal
Babu Kunwar Singh
(d. April 1858)
(d. May 1857)
(From August 1857)
John Nicholson †
Jung Bahadur Rana
Casualties and losses
at least 100,000[not in citation given]-nearly 806,000 and possibly
more, both in the rebellion and in famines and epidemics of disease in
its wake, by comparison of sketchy pre-existing population estimates
with Indian Census of 1871.
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Part of a series on the
History of India
Soanian, c. 500,000 BCE
Neolithic, c. 7600 – c. 3300 BCE
Bhirrana 7570 - 6200 BCE
Jhusi 7106 BCE
Lahuradewa 7000 BCE
Mehrgarh 7000 - 2600 BCE
Indus Valley Civilization, c. 3300 – c. 1700 BCE
Post Indus Valley Period, c. 1700 – c. 1500 BCE
Vedic Civilization, c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE
Early Vedic Period
Later Vedic Period
Spread of Jainism - Parshvanatha
Spread of Jainism - Mahavira
Rise of Buddhism
Mahajanapadas, c. 500 – c. 345 BCE
Nanda Dynasty, c. 345 – c. 322 BCE
Maurya Dynasty, c. 322 – c. 185 BCE
Shunga Dynasty, c. 185 – c. 75 BCE
Kanva Dynasty, c. 75 – c. 30 BCE
Kushan Dynasty, c. 30 – c. 230 CE
Satavahana Dynasty, c. 30 BCE – c. 220 CE
Gupta Dynasty, c. 200 – c. 550 CE
Chalukya Dynasty, c. 543 – c. 753 CE
Harsha's Dynasty, c. 606 CE – c. 647 CE
Karakota Dynasty, c. 724 – c. 760 CE
Arab Invasion, c. 738 CE
Tripartite Struggle, c. 760 – c. 973 CE
Chola Dynasty, c. 848 – c. 1251 CE
2nd Chalukya Dynasty, c. 973 – c. 1187 CE
Delhi Sultanate, c. 1206 – c. 1526 CE
Pandyan Dynasty, c. 1251 – c. 1323 CE
Vijayanagara, c. 1336 – c. 1646 CE
Bengal Sultanate, c. 1342 – c. 1576 CE
Mughal Dynasty, c. 1526 – c. 1540 CE
Suri Dynasty, c. 1540 – c. 1556 CE
Mughal Dynasty, c. 1556 – c. 1857 CE
Bengal Subah, c. 1576 – c. 1757 CE
Maratha Empire, c. 1674 – c. 1818 CE
Company Raj, c. 1757 – c. 1858 CE
Kingdom of Mysore, c. 1760 – c. 1799 CE
Sikh Empire, c. 1799 – c. 1849 CE
The Great Rebellion, c. 1857 – c. 1858 CE
British Raj, c. 1858 – c. 1947 CE
Independent India, c. 1947 CE – present
Timeline of Indian History
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List of Inventions and Discoveries
Wars involving India
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a major, but ultimately unsuccessful,
India between 1857–58 against the rule of the British
India Company, which functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of
the British Crown. The event is known by many names, including
Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt
of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and India's First War of
The rebellion began on 10 May 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys
of the Company's army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 miles
Delhi (now Old Delhi). It then erupted into other
mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the upper Gangetic plain
and central India,[b][c] though incidents of revolt also
occurred farther north and east.[d] The rebellion posed a
considerable threat to British power in that region,[e] and was
contained only with the rebels' defeat in
Gwalior on 20 June 1858.
On 1 November 1858, the British granted amnesty to all rebels not
involved in murder, though they did not declare the hostilities
formally to have ended until 8 July 1859.
The Indian rebellion was fed by resentment that had emerged from
British rule, including invasive British-style social reforms, harsh
land taxes, summary treatment of some rich landowners and
princes, and broader scepticism about the improvements brought
about by British rule.[f] Many Indians did rise against the
British, but many others fought for the British, and the majority
remained seemingly compliant to British rule.[g][h] Violence,
which sometimes betrayed exceptional cruelty, was inflicted on both
sides; on British officers and civilians (including women and
children) by the rebels, and on the rebels and their supporters
(sometimes including entire villages) by British reprisals. The cities
Lucknow were laid waste in the fighting and the British
After the outbreak of the mutiny in Meerut, the rebels very quickly
reached Delhi, whose 81-year-old Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was
declared the Emperor of Hindustan. Soon, the rebels also captured
large tracts of the
North-Western Provinces and
Awadh (Oudh). The East
India Company's response came rapidly as well. With help from
Kanpur was retaken by mid-July 1857, and
Delhi by the
end of September. Even so, it then took the remainder of 1857 and
the better part of 1858 for the rebellion to be suppressed in Jhansi,
Lucknow, and especially the
Awadh countryside. Other regions of
Company controlled India—the
Bengal Presidency, the Bombay
Presidency and the Madras Presidency—remained largely
calm.[j] In the Punjab, the
Sikh princes crucially helped the
British by providing both soldiers and support.[k] The large
princely states, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well
as the smaller ones of Rajputana, did not join the rebellion, serving
the British, in the Governor-General Lord Canning's words, as
"breakwaters in a storm."
In some regions, most notably in Awadh, the rebellion took on the
attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence and
power. However, the rebel leaders proclaimed no articles of faith
that presaged a new political system.[l] Even so, the rebellion
proved to be an important watershed in Indian- and British Empire
history.[m] It led to the dissolution of the East India
Company, and forced the British to reorganize the army, the financial
system, and the administration in India, through the passage of the
India Act 1858.
India was thereafter administered
directly by the British government in the new British Raj. On 1
Queen Victoria issued a proclamation to Indians, which
while lacking the authority of a constitutional provision,[n]
promised rights similar to those of other British subjects.[o][p]
In the following decades, when admission to these rights was not
always forthcoming, Indians were to pointedly refer to the Queen's
proclamation in growing avowals of a new nationalism.[q][r]
India Company's expansion in India
2 Causes of the rebellion
2.1 The Enfield Rifle
2.2 Civilian disquiet
3 Onset of the Rebellion
4 Mangal Pandey
4.1 Unrest during April 1857
5 Supporters and opposition
6 The Revolt
6.1 Initial stages
6.3 Cawnpore (Kanpur)
6.6 Other regions
Bengal and Tripura
6.7 British Empire
7.1 Death toll and atrocities
7.2 Reaction in Britain
7.4 Military reorganisation
10 150th anniversary
11 In popular culture
12 See also
15.1 Text-books and academic monographs
15.2 Articles in journals and collections
Historiography and memory
15.4 Other histories
15.5 First person accounts and classic histories
15.6 Tertiary sources
15.7 Fictional and narrative literature
16 External links
India Company's expansion in India
Main article: Company rule in India
India in 1765 and 1805 showing East
India Company-governed territories
India in 1837 and 1857 showing East
India Company-governed territories
Although the British East
India Company had established a presence in
India as far back as 1612, and earlier administered the factory
areas established for trading purposes, its victory in the Battle of
Plassey in 1757 marked the beginning of its firm foothold in eastern
India. The victory was consolidated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar,
when the East
India Company army defeated Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.
After his defeat, the emperor granted the Company the right to the
"collection of Revenue" in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha,
known as "Diwani" to the Company. The Company soon expanded its
territories around its bases in Bombay and Madras; later, the
Anglo-Mysore Wars (1766–1799) and the Anglo-
(1772–1818) led to control of even more of India.
In 1806, the Vellore
Mutiny was sparked by new uniform regulations
that created resentment amongst both
After the turn of the 19th century, Governor-General Wellesley began
what became two decades of accelerated expansion of Company
territories. This was achieved either by subsidiary alliances
between the Company and local rulers or by direct military annexation.
The subsidiary alliances created the princely states of the Hindu
maharajas and the
Muslim nawabs. Punjab, North-West Frontier Province,
Kashmir were annexed after the Second Anglo-
Sikh War in 1849;
Kashmir was immediately sold under the 1846 Treaty of
Amritsar to the
Dogra Dynasty of
Jammu and thereby became a princely
state. The border dispute between
Nepal and British India, which
sharpened after 1801, had caused the
Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814–16
and brought the defeated
Gurkhas under British influence. In 1854,
Berar was annexed, and the state of
Oudh was added two years later.
For practical purposes, the Company was the government of much of
Causes of the rebellion
Main article: Causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857 occurred as the result of an accumulation
of factors over time, rather than any single event.
The sepoys were Indian soldiers who were recruited into the Company's
army. Just before the rebellion, there were over 300,000 sepoys in the
army, compared to about 50,000 British. The forces were divided into
three presidency armies: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. The
recruited higher castes, such as Rajputs and Bhumihar, mostly from the
Bihar regions, and even restricted the enlistment of lower
castes in 1855. In contrast, the
Madras Army and
Bombay Army were
"more localized, caste-neutral armies" that "did not prefer high-caste
men." The domination of higher castes in the
Bengal Army has been
blamed in part for initial mutinies that led to the rebellion.
Two sepoy officers; a private sepoy, 1820s
In 1772, when
Warren Hastings was appointed India's first
Governor-General, one of his first undertakings was the rapid
expansion of the Company’s army. Since the sepoys from
many of whom had fought against the Company in the Battles of Plassey
and Buxar – were now suspect in British eyes, Hastings recruited
farther west from the high-caste rural Rajputs and
Bhumihar of Awadh
and Bihar, a practice that continued for the next 75 years. However,
in order to forestall any social friction, the Company also took
action to adapt its military practices to the requirements of their
religious rituals. Consequently, these soldiers dined in separate
facilities; in addition, overseas service, considered polluting to
their caste, was not required of them, and the army soon came
officially to recognise
Hindu festivals. "This encouragement of high
caste ritual status, however, left the government vulnerable to
protest, even mutiny, whenever the sepoys detected infringement of
their prerogatives." Stokes argues that "The British scrupulously
avoided interference with the social structure of the village
community which remained largely intact."
After the annexation of
Oudh (Awadh) by the East
India Company in
1856, many sepoys were disquieted both from losing their perquisites,
as landed gentry, in the
Oudh courts, and from the anticipation of any
increased land-revenue payments that the annexation might bring
about. Other historians have stressed that by 1857, some Indian
soldiers, interpreting the presence of missionaries as a sign of
official intent, were convinced that the Company was masterminding
mass conversions of Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. Although
earlier in the 1830s, evangelicals such as William Carey and William
Wilberforce had successfully clamoured for the passage of social
reform, such as the abolition of sati and allowing the remarriage of
Hindu widows, there is little evidence that the sepoys' allegiance was
affected by this.
However, changes in the terms of their professional service may have
created resentment. As the extent of the East
jurisdiction expanded with victories in wars or annexation, the
soldiers were now expected not only to serve in less familiar regions,
such as in Burma, but also to make do without the "foreign service"
remuneration that had previously been their due.
A major cause of resentment that arose ten months prior to the
outbreak of the rebellion was the General Service Enlistment Act of 25
July 1856. As noted above, men of the
Bengal Army had been exempted
from overseas service. Specifically, they were enlisted only for
service in territories to which they could march. Governor-General
Lord Dalhousie saw this as an anomaly, since all sepoys of the Madras
and Bombay Armies and the six "General Service" battalions of the
Bengal Army had accepted an obligation to serve overseas if required.
As a result, the burden of providing contingents for active service in
Burma, readily accessible only by sea, and
China had fallen
disproportionately on the two smaller Presidency Armies. As signed
into effect by Lord Canning, Dalhousie's successor as
Governor-General, the act required only new recruits to the Bengal
Army to accept a commitment for general service. However, serving
high-caste sepoys were fearful that it would be eventually extended to
them, as well as preventing sons following fathers into an army with a
strong tradition of family service.
There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on
seniority. This, as well as the increasing number of European officers
in the battalions, made promotion slow, and many Indian officers
did not reach commissioned rank until they were too old to be
The Enfield Rifle
The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield
P-53 rifle. These rifles, which fired Minié balls, had a tighter
fit than the earlier muskets, and used paper cartridges that came
pre-greased. To load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open
to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges was
rumoured to include tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive
to Hindus, and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. At least
one Company official pointed out the difficulties this may cause:
unless it be proven that the grease employed in these cartridges is
not of a nature to offend or interfere with the prejudices of caste,
it will be expedient not to issue them for test to Native corps.
However, in August 1856, greased cartridge production was initiated at
Fort William, Calcutta, following a British design. The grease used
included tallow supplied by the Indian firm of Gangadarh Banerji &
Co. By January, rumours were abroad that the Enfield cartridges
were greased with animal fat.
Company officers became aware of the rumours through reports of an
altercation between a high-caste sepoy and a low-caste labourer at Dum
Dum. The labourer had taunted the sepoy that by biting the
cartridge, he had himself lost caste, although at this time such
cartridges had been issued only at
Meerut and not at Dum Dum.
There had been rumours that the British sought to destroy the
religions of the Indian people, and forcing the native soldiers to
break their sacred code would have certainly added to this rumour, as
it apparently did. The Company was quick to reverse the effects of
this policy in hopes that the unrest would be quelled.
On 27 January, Colonel Richard Birch, the Military Secretary, ordered
that all cartridges issued from depots were to be free from grease,
and that sepoys could grease them themselves using whatever mixture
"they may prefer". A modification was also made to the drill for
loading so that the cartridge was torn with the hands and not bitten.
This however, merely caused many sepoys to be convinced that the
rumours were true and that their fears were justified. Additional
rumours started that the paper in the new cartridges, which was glazed
and stiffer than the previously used paper, was impregnated with
grease. In February, a court of inquiry was held at Barrackpore to
get to the bottom of these rumours. Native soldiers called as
witnesses complained of the paper "being stiff and like cloth in the
mode of tearing", said that when the paper was burned it smelled of
grease, and announced that the suspicion that the paper itself
contained grease could not be removed from their minds.
The civilian rebellion was more multifarious. The rebels consisted of
three groups: the feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars,
and the peasants. The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and
domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognise the
adopted children of princes as legal heirs, felt that the Company had
interfered with a traditional system of inheritance. Rebel leaders
Nana Sahib and the Rani of
Jhansi belonged to this group; the
latter, for example, was prepared to accept East
supremacy if her adopted son was recognised as her late husband's
heir. In other areas of central India, such as
Indore and Saugar,
where such loss of privilege had not occurred, the princes remained
loyal to the Company, even in areas where the sepoys had rebelled.
The second group, the taluqdars, had lost half their landed estates to
peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake
of annexation of Oudh. As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars
quickly reoccupied the lands they had lost, and paradoxically, in part
because of ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, did not experience
significant opposition from the peasant farmers, many of whom joined
the rebellion, to the great dismay of the British. It has also
been suggested that heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the
British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land
or going into great debt to money lenders, and providing ultimately a
reason to rebel; money lenders, in addition to the Company, were
particular objects of the rebels' animosity. The civilian
rebellion was also highly uneven in its geographic distribution, even
in areas of north-central
India that were no longer under British
control. For example, the relatively prosperous Muzaffarnagar
district, a beneficiary of a Company irrigation scheme, and next door
to Meerut, where the upheaval began, stayed relatively calm
Charles Canning, the Governor-General of
India during the rebellion.
Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of
India from 1848 to 1856, who
devised the Doctrine of Lapse.
Lakshmibai, the Rani of Maratha-ruled Jhansi, one of the principal
leaders of the rebellion who earlier had lost her kingdom as a result
of the Doctrine of Lapse.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar the last Mughal Emperor, crowned Emperor of India,
by the Indian troops, he was deposed by the British, and died in exile
Utilitarian and evangelical-inspired social reform", including
the abolition of sati and the legalisation of widow remarriage
were considered by many—especially the British themselves—to
have caused suspicion that Indian religious traditions were being
"interfered with", with the ultimate aim of conversion. Recent
historians, including Chris Bayly, have preferred to frame this as a
"clash of knowledges", with proclamations from religious authorities
before the revolt and testimony after it including on such issues as
the "insults to women", the rise of "low persons under British
tutelage", the "pollution" caused by Western medicine and the
persecuting and ignoring of traditional astrological authorities.
European-run schools were also a problem: according to recorded
testimonies, anger had spread because of stories that mathematics was
replacing religious instruction, stories were chosen that would "bring
contempt" upon Indian religions, and because girl children were
exposed to "moral danger" by education.
The justice system was considered to be inherently unfair to the
Indians. The official Blue Books, East
India (Torture) 1855–1857,
laid before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857,
revealed that Company officers were allowed an extended series of
appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against
The economic policies of the East
India Company were also resented by
Each of the three "Presidencies" into which the East
India for administrative purposes maintained their own armies.
Of these, the Army of the
Bengal Presidency was the largest. Unlike
the other two, it recruited heavily from among high-caste Hindus and
comparatively wealthy Muslims. The Muslims formed a larger percentage
of the 18 irregular cavalry units within the
Bengal army, whilst
Hindus were mainly to be found in the 84 regular infantry and cavalry
regiments. The sepoys were therefore affected to a large degree by the
concerns of the landholding and traditional members of Indian society.
In the early years of Company rule, it tolerated and even encouraged
the caste privileges and customs within the
Bengal Army, which
recruited its regular soldiers almost exclusively amongst the
landowning Brahmins and Rajputs of the
Awadh regions. These
soldiers were known as Purbiyas. By the time these customs and
privileges came to be threatened by modernising regimes in Calcutta
from the 1840s onwards, the sepoys had become accustomed to very high
ritual status and were extremely sensitive to suggestions that their
caste might be polluted.
The sepoys also gradually became dissatisfied with various other
aspects of army life. Their pay was relatively low and after
the Punjab were annexed, the soldiers no longer received extra pay
(batta or bhatta) for service there, because they were no longer
considered "foreign missions". The junior European officers became
increasingly estranged from their soldiers, in many cases treating
them as their racial inferiors. In 1856, a new Enlistment Act was
introduced by the Company, which in theory made every unit in the
Bengal Army liable to service overseas. Although it was intended to
apply only to new recruits, the serving sepoys feared that the Act
might be applied retroactively to them as well. A high-caste Hindu
who travelled in the cramped conditions of a wooden troop ship could
not cook his own food on his own fire, and accordingly risked losing
caste through ritual pollution.
Onset of the Rebellion
Indian mutiny map showing position of troops on 1 May 1857
Several months of increasing tensions coupled with various incidents
preceded the actual rebellion. On 26 February 1857 the 19th Bengal
Native Infantry (BNI) regiment became concerned that new cartridges
they had been issued were wrapped in paper greased with cow and pig
fat, which had to be opened by mouth thus affecting their religious
sensibilities. Their Colonel confronted them supported by artillery
and cavalry on the parade ground, but after some negotiation withdrew
the artillery, and cancelled the next morning's parade.
Main article: Mangal Pandey
On 29 March 1857 at the Barrackpore parade ground, near Calcutta,
Mangal Pandey of the 34th BNI, angered by the recent
actions of the East
India Company, declared that he would rebel
against his commanders. Informed about Pandey's behaviour
Sergeant-Major James Hewson went to investigate, only to have Pandey
shoot at him. Hewson raised the alarm. When his adjutant Lt. Henry
Baugh came out to investigate the unrest, Pandey opened fire but hit
Baugh's horse instead.
General John Hearsey came out to the parade ground to investigate, and
claimed later that
Mangal Pandey was in some kind of "religious
frenzy". He ordered the Indian commander of the quarter guard Jemadar
Ishwari Prasad to arrest Mangal Pandey, but the
Jemadar refused. The
quarter guard and other sepoys present, with the single exception of a
soldier called Shaikh Paltu, drew back from restraining or arresting
Shaikh Paltu restrained Pandey from continuing his
After failing to incite his comrades into an open and active
Mangal Pandey tried to take his own life, by placing his
musket to his chest and pulling the trigger with his toe. He managed
only to wound himself. Court-martialled on 6 April, he was hanged two
Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was sentenced to death and hanged on 22
April. The regiment was disbanded and stripped of its uniforms because
it was felt that it harboured ill-feelings towards its superiors,
particularly after this incident.
Shaikh Paltu was promoted to the
rank of havildar in the
Bengal Army, but was murdered shortly before
the 34th BNI dispersed.
Sepoys in other regiments thought these punishments were harsh. The
demonstration of disgrace during the formal disbanding helped foment
the rebellion in view of some historians. Disgruntled ex-sepoys
returned home to
Awadh with a desire for revenge.
Unrest during April 1857
During April, there was unrest and fires at Agra,
Ambala in particular, which was a large military cantonment
where several units had been collected for their annual musketry
practice, it was clear to General Anson, Commander-in-Chief of the
Bengal Army, that some sort of rebellion over the cartridges was
imminent. Despite the objections of the civilian Governor-General's
staff, he agreed to postpone the musketry practice and allow a new
drill by which the soldiers tore the cartridges with their fingers
rather than their teeth. However, he issued no general orders making
this standard practice throughout the
Bengal Army and, rather than
Ambala to defuse or overawe potential trouble, he then
proceeded to Simla, the cool "hill station" where many high officials
spent the summer.
Although there was no open revolt at Ambala, there was widespread
arson during late April. Barrack buildings (especially those belonging
to soldiers who had used the Enfield cartridges) and European
officers' bungalows were set on fire.
Sepoy revolt at Meerut," from the Illustrated London News, 1857
An 1858 photograph by
Felice Beato of a mosque in
Meerut where some of
the rebel soldiers may have prayed
At Meerut, a large military cantonment, 2,357 Indian sepoys and 2,038
British soldiers were stationed along with 12 British-manned guns. The
station held one of the largest concentrations of British troops in
India and this was later to be cited as evidence that the original
rising was a spontaneous outbreak rather than a pre-planned plot.
Although the state of unrest within the
Bengal Army was well known, on
24 April Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, the unsympathetic
commanding officer of the 3rd
Bengal Light Cavalry, ordered 90 of his
men to parade and perform firing drills. All except five of the men on
parade refused to accept their cartridges. On 9 May, the remaining 85
men were court martialled, and most were sentenced to 10 years'
imprisonment with hard labour. Eleven comparatively young soldiers
were given five years' imprisonment. The entire garrison was paraded
and watched as the condemned men were stripped of their uniforms and
placed in shackles. As they were marched off to jail, the condemned
soldiers berated their comrades for failing to support them.
The next day was Sunday. Some Indian soldiers warned off-duty junior
European officers that plans were afoot to release the imprisoned
soldiers by force, but the senior officers to whom this was reported
took no action. There was also unrest in the city of
with angry protests in the bazaar and some buildings being set on
fire. In the evening, most European officers were preparing to attend
church, while many of the European soldiers were off duty and had gone
into canteens or into the bazaar in Meerut. The Indian troops, led by
the 3rd Cavalry, broke into revolt. European junior officers who
attempted to quell the first outbreaks were killed by the rebels.
European officers' and civilians' quarters were attacked, and four
civilian men, eight women and eight children were killed. Crowds in
the bazaar attacked off-duty soldiers there. About 50 Indian
civilians, some of them officers' servants who tried to defend or
conceal their employers, were killed by the sepoys. While the
action of the sepoys in freeing their 85 imprisoned comrades appears
to have been spontaneous, some civilian rioting in the city was
reportedly encouraged by kotwal (local police commander) Dhan Singh
Some sepoys (especially from the 11th
Bengal Native Infantry) escorted
trusted British officers and women and children to safety before
joining the revolt. Some officers and their families escaped to
Rampur, where they found refuge with the Nawab.
The British historian Philip Mason notes that it was inevitable that
most of the sepoys and sowars from
Meerut should have made for Delhi
on the night of 10 May. It was a strong walled city located only forty
miles away, it was the ancient capital and present seat of the Mughal
Emperor and finally there were no British troops in garrison there in
contrast to Meerut. No effort was made to pursue them.
Massacre of officers by insurgent cavalry at Delhi
Early on 11 May, the first parties of the 3rd Cavalry reached Delhi.
From beneath the windows of the King's apartments in the palace, they
called on him to acknowledge and lead them. Bahadur Shah did nothing
at this point, apparently treating the sepoys as ordinary petitioners,
but others in the palace were quick to join the revolt. During the
day, the revolt spread. European officials and dependents, Indian
Christians and shop keepers within the city were killed, some by
sepoys and others by crowds of rioters.
The Flagstaff Tower, Delhi, where the European survivors of the
rebellion gathered on 11 May 1857; photographed by Felice Beato
There were three battalion-sized regiments of
Bengal Native Infantry
stationed in or near the city. Some detachments quickly joined the
rebellion, while others held back but also refused to obey orders to
take action against the rebels. In the afternoon, a violent explosion
in the city was heard for several miles. Fearing that the arsenal,
which contained large stocks of arms and ammunition, would fall intact
into rebel hands, the nine British Ordnance officers there had opened
fire on the sepoys, including the men of their own guard. When
resistance appeared hopeless, they blew up the arsenal. Six of the
nine officers survived, but the blast killed many in the streets and
nearby houses and other buildings. The news of these events
finally tipped the sepoys stationed around
Delhi into open rebellion.
The sepoys were later able to salvage at least some arms from the
arsenal, and a magazine two miles (3 km) outside Delhi,
containing up to 3,000 barrels of gunpowder, was captured without
Many fugitive European officers and civilians had congregated at the
Flagstaff Tower on the ridge north of Delhi, where telegraph operators
were sending news of the events to other British stations. When it
became clear that the help expected from
Meerut was not coming, they
made their way in carriages to Karnal. Those who became separated from
the main body or who could not reach the
Flagstaff Tower also set out
Karnal on foot. Some were helped by villagers on the way; others
The next day, Bahadur Shah held his first formal court for many years.
It was attended by many excited sepoys. The King was alarmed by the
turn events had taken, but eventually accepted the sepoys' allegiance
and agreed to give his countenance to the rebellion. On 16 May, up to
50 Europeans who had been held prisoner in the palace or had been
discovered hiding in the city were killed by some of the King's
servants under a peepul tree in a courtyard outside the
Supporters and opposition
Troops of the Native Allies by George Francklin Atkinson, 1859.
States during the rebellion
The news of the events at
Delhi spread rapidly, provoking uprisings
among sepoys and disturbances in many districts. In many cases, it was
the behaviour of British military and civilian authorities themselves
which precipitated disorder. Learning of the fall of
telegraph, many Company administrators hastened to remove themselves,
their families and servants to places of safety. At Agra, 160 miles
(260 km) from Delhi, no less than 6,000 assorted non-combatants
converged on the Fort. The haste with which many civilians left
their posts encouraged rebellions in the areas they left, although
others remained at their posts until it was clearly impossible to
maintain any sort of order. Several were murdered by rebels.[citation
The military authorities also reacted in disjointed manner. Some
officers trusted their sepoys, but others tried to disarm them to
forestall potential uprisings. At Benares and Allahabad, the
disarmings were bungled, also leading to local revolts.
Although rebellion became widespread, there was little unity among the
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar was restored to the imperial throne,
there was a faction that wanted the
Maratha rulers to be enthroned
also, and the Awadhis wanted to retain the powers that their Nawab
used to have.
There were calls for jihad by
Muslim leaders like Maulana
Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi and the millenarian Ahmadullah Shah, which were
taken up by Muslims, particularly artisans, which caused the British
to think that the Muslims were the main force behind this event. The
Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, resisted these calls for jihad because,
it has been suggested, he feared outbreaks of communal violence. In
Sunni Muslims did not want to see a return to
Shiite rule, so
they often refused to join what they perceived to be a Shia rebellion.
However, some Muslims, like the Aga Khan I, supported the British. The
British rewarded him by formally recognising his title.[citation
Although most of the mutinous sepoys in
Delhi were Hindus, a
significant proportion of the insurgents were Muslims. The proportion
of ghazis grew to be about a quarter of the local fighting force by
the end of the siege and included a regiment of suicide ghazis from
Gwalior who had vowed never to eat again and to fight until they met
certain death at the hands of British troops.
In Thana Bhawan, the
Haji Imdadullah their Ameer. In
May 1857, the Battle of Shamli took place between the forces of Haji
Imdadullah and the British.
Pathans of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province
supported the British and helped in the recapture of Delhi.
Historian John Harris has asserted that the
Sikhs wanted to avenge the
annexation of the
Sikh Empire eight years earlier by the Company with
the help of Purbiyas ('Easterners'), Biharis and those from the United
Oudh who had formed part of the East India
Company's armies in the First and Second Anglo-
Sikh Wars. He has also
Sikhs felt insulted by the attitude of sepoys who, in
their view, had beaten the
Khalsa only with British help; they
resented and despised them far more than they did the British.
Sikhs feared reinstatement of Mughal rule in northern India
because they had been persecuted heavily in the past by the Mughal
Sikh Troops Dividing the Spoil Taken from Mutineers, circa 1860.
Sikh support for the British resulted from grievances surrounding
sepoys' perceived conduct during and after the Anglo-
Sikhs resented that Hindustanis/Purbiyas in service of
Sikh state had been foremost in urging the wars, which lost them
Sikh soldiers also recalled that the bloodiest
battles of the war, Chillianwala and Ferozeshah, were won by British
troops, and they believed that the Hindustani sepoys had refused to
meet them in battle. These feelings were compounded when Hindustani
sepoys were assigned a very visible role as garrison troops in Punjab
and awarded profit-making civil posts in Punjab.
In 1857, the
Bengal Army had 86,000 men, of which 12,000 were
Sikh and 1,500 Gurkha. There were 311,000 native
India altogether, 40,160 European soldiers and 5,362
officers. Fifty-four of the
Bengal Army's 74 regular Native
Infantry Regiments mutinied, but some were immediately destroyed or
broke up, with their sepoys drifting away to their homes. A number of
the remaining 20 regiments were disarmed or disbanded to prevent or
forestall mutiny. In total, only twelve of the original
Infantry regiments survived to pass into the new Indian Army. All
ten of the
Bengal Light Cavalry regiments mutinied.
Bengal Army also contained 29 irregular cavalry and 42 irregular
infantry regiments. Of these, a substantial contingent from the
recently annexed state of
Awadh mutinied en masse. Another large
Gwalior also mutinied, even though that state's ruler
supported the British. The remainder of the irregular units were
raised from a wide variety of sources and were less affected by the
concerns of mainstream Indian society. Some irregular units actively
supported the Company: three
Gurkha and five of six
units, and the six infantry and six cavalry units of the recently
raised Punjab Irregular Force.
On 1 April 1858, the number of Indian soldiers in the
loyal to the Company was 80,053. However large numbers were
hastily raised in the Punjab and North-West Frontier after the
outbreak of the Rebellion. The Bombay army had three mutinies in its
29 regiments, whilst the Madras army had none at all, although
elements of one of its 52 regiments refused to volunteer for service
in Bengal. Nonetheless, most of southern
India remained passive,
with only intermittent outbreaks of violence. Many parts of the region
were ruled by the Nizams or the Mysore royalty, and were thus not
directly under British rule.
Fugitive British officers and their families attacked by mutineers.
An etching of Nynee Tal (today Nainital) and accompanying story in the
Illustrated London News, August 15, 1857, describing how the resort
town in the Himalayas served as a refuge for British families escaping
from the rebellion of 1857 in
Delhi and Meerut.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of the whole of India.
Most contemporary and modern accounts suggest that he was coerced by
the sepoys and his courtiers to sign the proclamation against his
will. In spite of the significant loss of power that the Mughal
dynasty had suffered in the preceding centuries, their name still
carried great prestige across northern India. Civilians, nobility
and other dignitaries took an oath of allegiance. The emperor issued
coins in his name, one of the oldest ways of asserting imperial
status. The adhesion of the Mughal emperor, however, turned the Sikhs
of the Punjab away from the rebellion, as they did not want to return
to Islamic rule, having fought many wars against the Mughal rulers.
The province of
Bengal was largely quiet throughout the entire period.
The British, who had long ceased to take the authority of the Mughal
Emperor seriously, were astonished at how the ordinary people
responded to Zafar's call for war.
Initially, the Indian rebels were able to push back Company forces,
and captured several important towns in Haryana, Bihar, the Central
Provinces and the United Provinces. When European troops were
reinforced and began to counterattack, the mutineers were especially
handicapped by their lack of centralized command and control. Although
the rebels produced some natural leaders such as Bakht Khan, whom the
Emperor later nominated as commander-in-chief after his son Mirza
Mughal proved ineffectual, for the most part they were forced to look
for leadership to rajahs and princes. Some of these were to prove
dedicated leaders, but others were self-interested or inept.
In the countryside around Meerut, a general
Gurjar uprising posed the
largest threat to the British. In
Parikshitgarh near Meerut, Gurjars
declared Choudhari Kadam Singh (Kuddum Singh) their leader, and
expelled Company police. Kadam Singh
Gurjar led a large force,
estimates varying from 2,000 to 10,000.
Bulandshahr and Bijnor
also came under the control of
Gurjars under Walidad Khan and Maho
Singh respectively. Contemporary sources report that nearly all the
Gurjar villages between
Delhi participated in the revolt,
in some cases with support from Jullundur, and it was not until late
July that, with the help of local Jats, the British managed to regain
control of the area.
Attack of the mutineers on the Redan Battery at Lucknow, 30 July 1857
The Imperial Gazetteer of
India states that throughout the Indian
Rebellion of 1857,
Gurjars and Ranghars (
Muslim rajpoots) proved the
"most irreconcilable enemies" of the British in the Bulandshahr
Mufti Nizamuddin, a renowned scholar of Lahore, issued a
the British forces and called upon the local population to support the
forces of Rao Tula Ram. Casualties were high at the subsequent
engagement at Narnaul (Nasibpur). After the defeat of
Rao Tula Ram
Rao Tula Ram on
16 November 1857,
Mufti Nizamuddin was arrested, and his brother Mufti
Yaqinuddin and brother-in-law Abdur Rahman (alias Nabi Baksh) were
arrested in Tijara. They were taken to
Delhi and hanged. Having
lost the fight at Nasibpur,
Rao Tula Ram
Rao Tula Ram and
Pran Sukh Yadav requested
arms from Russia, which had just been engaged against Britain in the
Main article: Siege of Delhi
The British were slow to strike back at first. It took time for troops
stationed in Britain to make their way to
India by sea, although some
regiments moved overland through Persia from the Crimean War, and some
regiments already en route for
China were diverted to India.
It took time to organise the European troops already in
field forces, but eventually two columns left
Meerut and Simla. They
proceeded slowly towards
Delhi and fought, killed, and hanged numerous
Indians along the way. Two months after the first outbreak of
rebellion at Meerut, the two forces met near Karnal. The combined
force including two
Gurkha units serving in the
Bengal Army under
contract from the Kingdom of Nepal, fought the main army of the rebels
at Badli-ke-Serai and drove them back to Delhi.
Delhi and capture of the Cashmere Gate, 14 September 1857
The Company established a base on the
Delhi ridge to the north of the
city and the
Siege of Delhi
Siege of Delhi began. The siege lasted roughly from 1
July to 21 September. However, the encirclement was hardly complete,
and for much of the siege the Company forces were outnumbered and it
often seemed that it was the Company forces and not
Delhi that were
under siege, as the rebels could easily receive resources and
reinforcements. For several weeks, it seemed likely that disease,
exhaustion and continuous sorties by rebels from
Delhi would force the
Company forces to withdraw, but the outbreaks of rebellion in the
Punjab were forestalled or suppressed, allowing the Punjab Movable
Column of British,
Sikh and Pakhtun soldiers under John Nicholson to
reinforce the besiegers on the Ridge on 14 August. On 30
August the rebels offered terms, which were refused.
Jantar Mantar observatory in
Delhi in 1858, damaged in the
Mortar damage to Kashmiri Gate, Delhi, 1858
Hindu Rao's house in Delhi, now a hospital, was extensively damaged in
Delhi was attacked by mortar and gunfire
An eagerly awaited heavy siege train joined the besieging force, and
from 7 September, the siege guns battered breaches in the walls and
silenced the rebels' artillery.:478 An attempt to storm the city
through the breaches and the Kashmiri Gate was launched on 14
September.:480 The attackers gained a foothold within the city
but suffered heavy casualties, including John Nicholson. The British
commander wished to withdraw, but was persuaded to hold on by his
junior officers. After a week of street fighting, the British reached
the Red Fort.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar had already fled to Humayun's tomb.
The British had retaken the city.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar and his sons by William Hodson at
Humayun's tomb on 20 September 1857
The troops of the besieging force proceeded to loot and pillage the
city. A large number of the citizens were killed in retaliation for
the Europeans and Indian civilians that had been slaughtered by the
rebels. During the street fighting, artillery was set up city's main
mosque, neighbourhoods within range were bombarded; the homes of the
Muslim nobility that contained innumerable cultural, artistic,
literary and monetary riches destroyed.
The British soon arrested Bahadur Shah, and the next day the British
agent William Hodson had his sons Mirza Mughal, Mirza Khazir Sultan,
and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr shot under his own authority at the Khooni
Darwaza (the bloody gate) near
Delhi Gate. On hearing the news Zafar
reacted with shocked silence while his wife
Zinat Mahal was content as
she believed her son was now Zafar's heir. Shortly after the fall
of Delhi, the victorious attackers organised a column that relieved
another besieged Company force in Agra, and then pressed on to
Cawnpore, which had also recently been retaken. This gave the Company
forces a continuous, although still tenuous, line of communication
from the east to west of India.
Main article: Siege of Cawnpore
Tatya Tope's Soldiery
A memorial erected (circa 1860) by the British after the
Mutiny at the
Bibighar Well. After India's Independence the statue was moved to the
All Souls Memorial Church, Cawnpore. Albumen silver print by Samuel
In June, sepoys under General Wheeler in Cawnpore (now Kanpur)
rebelled and besieged the European entrenchment. Wheeler was not only
a veteran and respected soldier but also married to a high-caste
Indian lady. He had relied on his own prestige, and his cordial
relations with the
Nana Sahib to thwart rebellion, and took
comparatively few measures to prepare fortifications and lay in
supplies and ammunition.
The besieged endured three weeks of the
Siege of Cawnpore
Siege of Cawnpore with little
water or food, suffering continuous casualties to men, women and
children. On 25 June
Nana Sahib made an offer of safe passage to
Allahabad. With barely three days' food rations remaining, the British
agreed provided they could keep their small arms and that the
evacuation should take place in daylight on the morning of the 27th
Nana Sahib wanted the evacuation to take place on the night of
the 26th). Early in the morning of 27 June, the European party left
their entrenchment and made their way to the river where boats
provided by the
Nana Sahib were waiting to take them to
Allahabad. Several sepoys who had stayed loyal to the Company
were removed by the mutineers and killed, either because of their
loyalty or because "they had become Christian." A few injured British
officers trailing the column were also apparently hacked to death by
angry sepoys. After the European party had largely arrived at the
dock, which was surrounded by sepoys positioned on both banks of the
Ganges, with clear lines of fire, firing broke out and the boats
were abandoned by their crew, and caught or were set on fire
using pieces of red hot charcoal. The British party tried to push
the boats off but all except three remained stuck. One boat with over
a dozen wounded men initially escaped, but later grounded, was caught
by mutineers and pushed back down the river towards the carnage at
Cawnpore. Towards the end rebel cavalry rode into the water to finish
off any survivors. After the firing ceased the survivors were
rounded up and the men shot. By the time the massacre was over,
most of the male members of the party were dead while the surviving
women and children were removed and held hostage to be later killed in
the Bibighar massacre. Only four men eventually escaped alive
from Cawnpore on one of the boats: two private soldiers, a lieutenant,
and Captain Mowbray Thomson, who wrote a first-hand account of his
experiences entitled The Story of Cawnpore (London, 1859).
During his trial,
Tatya Tope denied the existence of any such plan and
described the incident in the following terms: the Europeans had
already boarded the boats and
Tatya Tope raised his right hand to
signal their departure. That very moment someone from the crowd blew a
loud bugle, which created disorder and in the ongoing bewilderment,
the boatmen jumped off the boats. The rebels started shooting
indiscriminately. Nana Sahib, who was staying in Savada Kothi
(Bungalow) nearby, was informed about what was happening and
immediately came to stop it. Some British histories allow that it
might well have been the result of accident or error; someone
accidentally or maliciously fired a shot, the panic-stricken British
opened fire, and it became impossible to stop the massacre.
The surviving women and children were taken to the
Nana Sahib and then
confined first to the Savada Kothi and then to the home of the local
magistrate's clerk (The Bibigarh) where they were joined by
refugees from Fatehgarh. Overall five men and two hundred and six
women and children were confined in The Bibigarh for about two weeks.
In one week 25 were brought out dead, from dysentery and cholera.
Meanwhile, a Company relief force that had advanced from Allahabad
defeated the Indians and by 15 July it was clear that the Nana Sahib
would not be able to hold Cawnpore and a decision was made by the Nana
Sahib and other leading rebels that the hostages must be killed. After
the sepoys refused to carry out this order, two
Muslim butchers, two
Hindu peasants and one of Nana's bodyguards went into The Bibigarh.
Armed with knives and hatchets they murdered the women and
children. After the massacre the walls were covered in bloody
hand prints, and the floor littered with fragments of human
limbs. The dead and the dying were thrown down a nearby well.
When the 50-foot (15 m) deep well was filled with remains to
within 6 feet (1.8 m) of the top, the remainder were thrown
into the Ganges.
Historians have given many reasons for this act of cruelty. With
Company forces approaching Cawnpore and some believing that they would
not advance if there were no hostages to save, their murders were
ordered. Or perhaps it was to ensure that no information was leaked
after the fall of Cawnpore. Other historians have suggested that the
killings were an attempt to undermine Nana Sahib's relationship with
the British. Perhaps it was due to fear, the fear of being
recognised by some of the prisoners for having taken part in the
Photograph entitled, "The Hospital in General Wheeler's entrenchment,
Cawnpore." (1858) The hospital was the site of the first major loss of
European lives in Cawnpore
1858 picture of Sati Chaura Ghat on the banks of the Ganges River,
where on 27 June 1857 many British men lost their lives and the
surviving women and children were taken prisoner by the rebels.
Bibigarh house where European women and children were killed and the
well where their bodies were found, 1858.
The Bibighar Well site where a memorial had been built. Samuel Bourne,
A contemporary image of the massacre at the Satichaura Ghat
The killing of the women and children hardened British attitudes
against the sepoys. The British public was aghast and the
anti-Imperial and pro-Indian proponents lost all their support.
Cawnpore became a war cry for the British and their allies for the
rest of the conflict.
Nana Sahib disappeared near the end of the
Rebellion and it is not known what happened to him.
Other British accounts state that indiscriminate
punitive measures were taken in early June, two weeks before the
murders at the Bibighar (but after those at both
Meerut and Delhi),
specifically by Lieutenant Colonel
James George Smith Neill
James George Smith Neill of the
Madras Fusiliers, commanding at
Allahabad while moving towards
Cawnpore. At the nearby town of Fatehpur, a mob had attacked and
murdered the local European population. On this pretext, Neill ordered
all villages beside the Grand Trunk Road to be burned and their
inhabitants to be killed by hanging. Neill's methods were "ruthless
and horrible" and far from intimidating the population, may well
have induced previously undecided sepoys and communities to revolt.
Neill was killed in action at
Lucknow on 26 September and was never
called to account for his punitive measures, though contemporary
British sources lionised him and his "gallant blue caps". When
the British retook Cawnpore, the soldiers took their sepoy prisoners
to the Bibighar and forced them to lick the bloodstains from the walls
and floor. They then hanged or "blew from the cannon", the
traditional Mughal punishment for mutiny, the majority of the sepoy
prisoners. Although some claimed the sepoys took no actual part in the
killings themselves, they did not act to stop it and this was
acknowledged by Captain Thompson after the British departed Cawnpore
for a second time.
Main article: Siege of Lucknow
The interior of the Secundra Bagh, several months after its storming
during the second relief of Lucknow. Albumen silver print by Felice
Very soon after the events in Meerut, rebellion erupted in the state
Awadh (also known as Oudh, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh), which had
been annexed barely a year before. The British Commissioner resident
at Lucknow, Sir Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his
position inside the Residency compound. The Company forces numbered
some 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels' assaults were
unsuccessful, and so they began a barrage of artillery and musket fire
into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties. The
rebels tried to breach the walls with explosives and bypass them via
underground tunnels that led to underground close combat.:486
After 90 days of siege, defended by John Eardley Inglis, numbers of
Company forces were reduced to 300 loyal sepoys, 350 British soldiers
and 550 non-combatants.
On 25 September, a relief column under the command of Sir Henry
Havelock and accompanied by Sir James Outram (who in theory was his
superior) fought its way from Cawnpore to
Lucknow in a brief campaign,
in which the numerically small column defeated rebel forces in a
series of increasingly large battles. This became known as 'The First
Relief of Lucknow', as this force was not strong enough to break the
siege or extricate themselves, and so was forced to join the garrison.
In October another, larger, army under the new Commander-in-Chief, Sir
Colin Campbell, was finally able to relieve the garrison and on 18
November, they evacuated the defended enclave within the city, the
women and children leaving first. They then conducted an orderly
withdrawal, firstly to
Alambagh 4 miles (6.4 km) north where a
force of 4,000 were left to construct a fort, then to Cawnpore, where
they defeated an attempt by
Tatya Tope to recapture the city in the
Second Battle of Cawnpore.
In March 1858, Campbell once again advanced on
Lucknow with a large
army, meeting up with the force at Alambagh, this time seeking to
suppress the rebellion in Awadh. He was aided by a large Nepalese
contingent advancing from the north under Jang Bahadur.
Campbell's advance was slow and methodical, with a force under General
Outram crossing the river on cask bridges on 4 March to enable them to
fire artillery in flank, the forces drove the large but disorganised
rebel army from
Lucknow with the final fighting shooting on 21
March,:491 there were few casualties to his own troops. This
nevertheless allowed large numbers of the rebels to disperse into
Awadh, and Campbell was forced to spend the summer and autumn dealing
with scattered pockets of resistance while losing men to heat, disease
and guerrilla actions.
Main article: Central
India Campaign (1858)
Jhansi Fort, which was taken over by rebel forces, and subsequently
defended against British recapture by the Rani of Jhansi
Jhansi was a Maratha-ruled princely state in Bundelkhand. When the
Jhansi died without a biological male heir in 1853, it was
annexed to the
British Raj by the Governor-General of
India under the
doctrine of lapse. His widow, Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi
protested against the denial of rights of their adopted son. When war
Jhansi quickly became a centre of the rebellion. A small
group of Company officials and their families took refuge in Jhansi
Fort, and the Rani negotiated their evacuation. However, when they
left the fort they were massacred by the rebels over whom the Rani had
no control; the Europeans suspected the Rani of complicity, despite
her repeated denials.
By the end of June 1857, the Company had lost control of much of
Bundelkhand and eastern Rajasthan. The
Bengal Army units in the area,
having rebelled, marched to take part in the battles for
Cawnpore. The many princely states that made up this area began
warring amongst themselves. In September and October 1857, the Rani
led the successful defence of
Jhansi against the invading armies of
the neighbouring rajas of
Datia and Orchha.
On 3 February, Sir Hugh Rose broke the 3-month siege of Saugor.
Thousands of local villagers welcomed him as a liberator, freeing them
from rebel occupation.
In March 1858, the Central
India Field Force, led by Sir Hugh Rose,
advanced on and laid siege to Jhansi. The Company forces captured the
city, but the Rani fled in disguise.
After being driven from
Jhansi and Kalpi, on 1 June 1858 Rani Lakshmi
Bai and a group of
Maratha rebels captured the fortress city of
Gwalior from the
Scindia rulers, who were British allies. This might
have reinvigorated the rebellion but the Central
India Field Force
very quickly advanced against the city. The Rani died on 17 June, the
second day of the Battle of Gwalior, probably killed by a carbine shot
8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
8th King's Royal Irish Hussars according to the account of
three independent Indian representatives. The Company forces
Gwalior within the next three days. In descriptions of the
scene of her last battle, she was compared to
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc by some
Colonel Henry Marion Durand, the then-Company resident at Indore, had
brushed away any possibility of uprising in Indore. However, on 1
July, sepoys in Holkar's army revolted and opened fire on the pickets
of Bhopal Cavalry. When Colonel Travers rode forward to charge, Bhopal
Cavalry refused to follow. The Bhopal Infantry also refused orders and
instead levelled their guns at European sergeants and officers. Since
all possibility of mounting an effective deterrent was lost, Durand
decided to gather up all the European residents and escape, although
39 European residents of
Indore were killed.
Execution of mutineers at Peshawar
What was then referred to by the British as the Punjab was a very
large administrative division, centered on Lahore. It included not
only the present-day Indian and Pakistani Punjabi regions but also the
North West Frontier districts bordering Afghanistan
Much of the region had been the
Sikh Empire, ruled by Ranjit Singh
until his death in 1839. The kingdom had then fallen into disorder,
with court factions and the
Sikh army) contending for
power at the
Lahore Durbar (court). After two Anglo-
Sikh Wars, the
entire region was annexed by the East
India Company in 1849. In 1857,
the region still contained the highest numbers of both European and
The inhabitants of the Punjab were not as sympathetic to the sepoys as
they were elsewhere in India, which limited many of the outbreaks in
the Punjab to disjointed uprisings by regiments of sepoys isolated
from each other. In some garrisons, notably Ferozepore, indecision on
the part of the senior European officers allowed the sepoys to rebel,
but the sepoys then left the area, mostly heading for Delhi. At
the most important garrison, that of
Peshawar close to the Afghan
frontier, many comparatively junior officers ignored their nominal
commander, General Reed, and took decisive action. They intercepted
the sepoys' mail, thus preventing their coordinating an uprising, and
formed a force known as the "Punjab Movable Column" to move rapidly to
suppress any revolts as they occurred. When it became clear from the
intercepted correspondence that some of the sepoys at
Peshawar were on
the point of open revolt, the four most disaffected
regiments were disarmed by the two British infantry regiments in the
cantonment, backed by artillery, on 22 May. This decisive act induced
many local chieftains to side with the British.
Lectern in memory of 35 British soldiers in Jhelum
Jhelum in Punjab saw a mutiny of native troops against the British.
Here 35 British soldiers of Her Majesty's 24th Regiment of Foot (South
Wales Borderers) were killed by mutineers on 7 July 1857. Among the
dead was Captain Francis Spring, the eldest son of Colonel William
Spring. To commemorate this event
St. John's Church Jhelum
St. John's Church Jhelum was built
and the names of those 35 British soldiers are carved on a marble
lectern present in that church.
The final large-scale military uprising in the Punjab took place on 9
July, when most of a brigade of sepoys at
Sialkot rebelled and began
to move to Delhi. They were intercepted by John Nicholson with an
equal British force as they tried to cross the Ravi River. After
fighting steadily but unsuccessfully for several hours, the sepoys
tried to fall back across the river but became trapped on an island.
Three days later, Nicholson annihilated the 1,100 trapped sepoys in
the Battle of Trimmu Ghat.
The British had been recruiting irregular units from
Sikh and Pakhtun
communities even before the first unrest among the
Bengal units, and
the numbers of these were greatly increased during the Rebellion,
34,000 fresh levies eventually being raised.
At one stage, faced with the need to send troops to reinforce the
besiegers of Delhi, the Commissioner of the Punjab (Sir John Lawrence)
suggested handing the coveted prize of
Peshawar to Dost Mohammed Khan
of Afghanistan in return for a pledge of friendship. The British
Peshawar and the adjacent districts were horrified.
Referring to the massacre of a retreating British army in 1842,
Herbert Edwardes wrote, "Dost Mahomed would not be a mortal Afghan ...
if he did not assume our day to be gone in
India and follow after us
as an enemy. Europeans cannot retreat – Kabul would come
again." In the event
Lord Canning insisted on
held, and Dost Mohammed, whose relations with Britain had been
equivocal for over 20 years, remained neutral.
Lieutenant William Alexander Kerr, 24th Bombay Native Infantry, near
Kolapore, July 1857
In September 1858 Rae Ahmed Nawaz Khan Kharal, head of the Khurrul
tribe, led an insurrection in the
Neeli Bar district, between the
Sutlej, Ravi and Chenab rivers. The rebels held the jungles of Gogaira
and had some initial successes against the British forces in the area,
besieging Major Crawford Chamberlain at Chichawatni. A squadron of
Punjabi cavalry sent by Sir John Lawrence raised the siege. Ahmed Khan
was killed but the insurgents found a new leader in Mahr Bahawal
Fatyana, who maintained the uprising for three months until Government
forces penetrated the jungle and scattered the rebel tribesmen.
See also: Siege of Arrah
Kunwar Singh, the 80-year-old
Zamindar of Jagdispur, whose
estate was in the process of being sequestrated by the Revenue Board,
instigated and assumed the leadership of revolt in Bihar.
On 25 July, mutiny erupted in the garrisons of Dinapur. Mutinying
sepoys from the 7th, 8th and 40th regiments of
Bengal Native Infantry
quickly moved towards the city of
Arrah and were joined by Kunwar
Singh and his men. Mr. Boyle, a British railway engineer in
Arrah, had already prepared an outbuilding on his property for defence
against such attacks. As the rebels approached Arrah, all
European residents took refuge at Mr. Boyle's house. A siege soon
ensued – eighteen civilians and 50 loyal sepoys from the Bengal
Military Police Battalion under the command of Herwald Wake, the local
magistrate, defended the house against artillery and musketry fire
from an estimated 2000 to 3000 mutineers and rebels.
On 29 July 400 men were sent out from
Dinapore to relieve Arrah, but
this force was ambushed by the rebels around a mile away from the
siege house, severely defeated, and driven back. On 30 July, Major
Vincent Eyre, who was going up the river with his troops and guns,
reached Buxar and heard about the siege. He immediately disembarked
his guns and troops (the 5th Fusiliers) and started marching towards
Arrah, disregarding direct orders not to do so. On 2 August, some
6 miles (9.7 km) short of Arrah, the Major was ambushed by the
mutineers and rebels. After an intense fight, the 5th Fusiliers
charged and stormed the rebel positions successfully. On 3
August, Major Eyre and his men reached the siege house and
successfully ended the siege.
After receiving reinforcements Major Eyre pursued
Kunwar Singh to his
palace in Jagdispur, however Singh had left by the time Eyre's forces
arrived. Eyre then proceeded to destroy the palace and the homes of
Bengal and Tripura
In September 1857, sepoys took control of the treasury in
Chittagong. The treasury remained under rebel control for several
days. Further mutinies on 18 November saw the 2nd, 3rd and 4th
companies of the 34th
Bengal Infantry Regiment storming the Chittagong
Jail and releasing all prisoners. The mutineers were eventually
suppressed by the
Gurkha regiments. The mutiny also spread to
Dacca, the former Mughal capital of Bengal. Residents in the city's
Lalbagh area were kept awake at night by the rebellion. Sepoys
joined hands with the common populace in
Jalpaiguri to take control of
the city's cantonment. In January 1858, many sepoys received
shelter from the royal family of the princely state of Hill
The interior areas of
Bengal proper were already experiencing growing
resistance to Company rule due to the
Muslim Faraizi movement.
In central and north Gujarat, the rebellion was sustained by land
owner Jagirdars, Talukdars and Thakors with the support of armed
communities of Bhil, Koli,
Pathans and Arabs, unlike the mutiny by
sepoys in north India. Their main opposition of British was due to
Inam commission. The
Bet Dwarka island, along with Okhamandal region
Kathiawar peninsula which was under
Gaekwad of Baroda
Gaekwad of Baroda State, saw a
revolt by the Vaghers in January 1858 who, by July 1859, controlled
that region. In October 1859, a joint offensive by British, Gaekwad
and other princely states troops ousted the rebels and recaptured the
The authorities in British colonies with an Indian population, sepoy
or civilian, took measures to secure themselves against copycat
uprisings. In the Straits Settlements, and
Trinidad the annual Hosay
processions were banned, riots broke out in penal settlements in
Burma, and the Settlements, in Penang the loss of a musket provoked a
near riot, and security was boosted especially in locations with
an Indian convict population.
"The Relief of Lucknow" by Thomas Jones Barker
Death toll and atrocities
The war and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of at least 800,000
people during the rebellion and its aftermath including those
resulting from famine and disease.[unreliable source?] Both
combatant sides committed huge numbers of atrocities against
Oudh alone, 150,000 Indians were estimated to have died during the
war, with 100,000 of them being civilians. Places such as Delhi,
Lucknow were all met with general massacre after
they were recaptured by British forces.
Another notable atrocity was carried out by General Neill who
massacred thousands of Indian mutineers and Indian civilians suspected
of supporting the rebellion.
The rebels' murder of women, children and wounded British soldiers at
Cawnpore, and the subsequent printing of the events in the British
papers, left many British soldiers seeking revenge. As well as hanging
mutineers, the British had some "blown from cannon," (an old Mughal
punishment adopted many years before in India), in which sentenced
rebels were tied over the mouths of cannons and blown to pieces when
the cannons were fired.
Most of the British press, outraged by the stories of rape and the
killings of civilians and wounded British soldiers, did not advocate
clemency of any kind. Governor General Canning ordered moderation in
dealing with native sensibilities and earned the scornful sobriquet
"Clemency Canning" from the press and later parts of the British
In terms of sheer numbers, the casualties were much higher on the
Indian side. A letter published after the fall of
Delhi in the Bombay
Telegraph and reproduced in the British press testified to the scale
of the Indian casualties:
.... All the city's people found within the walls of the city of Delhi
when our troops entered were bayoneted on the spot, and the number was
considerable, as you may suppose, when I tell you that in some houses
forty and fifty people were hiding. These were not mutineers but
residents of the city, who trusted to our well-known mild rule for
pardon. I am glad to say they were disappointed.
British soldiers looting Qaisar Bagh, Lucknow, after its recapture
(steel engraving, late 1850s)
From the end of 1857, the British had begun to gain ground again.
Lucknow was retaken in March 1858. On 8 July 1858, a peace treaty was
signed and the rebellion ended. The last rebels were defeated in
Gwalior on 20 June 1858. By 1859, rebel leaders
Bakht Khan and Nana
Sahib had either been slain or had fled.
Edward Vibart, a 19-year-old officer whose parents, younger brothers,
and two of his sisters had died in the Cawnpore massacre,
recorded his experience:
The orders went out to shoot every soul.... It was literally murder...
I have seen many bloody and awful sights lately but such a one as I
witnessed yesterday I pray I never see again. The women were all
spared but their screams on seeing their husbands and sons butchered,
were most painful... Heaven knows I feel no pity, but when some old
grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must
be that man's heart I think who can look on with indifference...
Blowing from a gun, 8 September 1857
Some British troops adopted a policy of "no prisoners". One officer,
Thomas Lowe, remembered how on one occasion his unit had taken 76
prisoners – they were just too tired to carry on killing and needed
a rest, he recalled. Later, after a quick trial, the prisoners were
lined up with a British soldier standing a couple of yards in front of
them. On the order "fire", they were all simultaneously shot,
"swept... from their earthly existence".
The aftermath of the rebellion has been the focus of new work using
Indian sources and population studies. In The Last Mughal, historian
William Dalrymple examines the effects on the
Muslim population of
Delhi after the city was retaken by the British and finds that
intellectual and economic control of the city shifted from
Hindu hands because the British, at that time, saw an Islamic hand
behind the mutiny.
Reaction in Britain
Justice, a print by
Sir John Tenniel
Sir John Tenniel in a September 1857 issue of
The scale of the punishments handed out by the British "Army of
Retribution" were considered largely appropriate and justified in a
Britain shocked by embellished reports of atrocities carried out
against British and European civilians by the rebels. Accounts of
the time frequently reach the "hyperbolic register", according to
Christopher Herbert, especially in the often-repeated claim that the
"Red Year" of 1857 marked "a terrible break" in British
experience. Such was the atmosphere – a national "mood of
retribution and despair" that led to "almost universal approval" of
the measures taken to pacify the revolt.
Incidents of rape allegedly committed by Indian rebels against
European women and girls appalled the British public. These atrocities
were often used to justify the British reaction to the rebellion.
British newspapers printed various eyewitness accounts of the rape of
English women and girls. One such account was published by The Times,
regarding an incident where 48 English girls as young as 10 had been
raped by Indian rebels in Delhi.
Karl Marx criticized this story as
false propaganda, and pointed out that the story was written by a
clergyman in Bangalore, far from the events of the rebellion, with no
evidence to support his allegation. Individual incidents captured
the public's interest and were heavily reported by the press. One such
incident was that of General Wheeler's daughter Margaret being forced
to live as her captor's concubine, though this was reported to the
Victorian public as Margaret killing her rapist then herself.
Another version of the story suggested that Margaret had been killed
after her abductor had argued with his wife over her.
During the aftermath of the rebellion, a series of exhaustive
investigations were carried out by British police and intelligence
officials into reports that British women prisoners had been
"dishonored" at the Bibighar and elsewhere. One such detailed enquiry
was at the direction of Lord Canning. The consensus was that there was
no convincing evidence of such crimes having been committed, although
numbers of European women and children had been killed outright.
The term 'Sepoy' or 'Sepoyism' became a derogatory term for
nationalists, especially in Ireland.
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Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal emperor) in Delhi, awaiting trial
by the British for his role in the Uprising. Photograph by Robert
Tytler and Charles Shepherd, May 1858
The proclamation to the "Princes, Chiefs, and People of India," issued
Queen Victoria on November 1, 1858. "We hold ourselves bound to the
natives of our Indian territories by the same obligation of duty which
bind us to all our other subjects." (p. 2)
Bahadur Shah was tried for treason by a military commission assembled
at Delhi, and exiled to
Rangoon where he died in 1862, bringing the
Mughal dynasty to an end. In 1877
Queen Victoria took the title of
India on the advice of Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.
The rebellion saw the end of the East
India Company's rule in India.
In August, by the Government of
India Act 1858, the company was
formally dissolved and its ruling powers over
India were transferred
to the British Crown. A new British government department, the
India Office, was created to handle the governance of India, and its
head, the Secretary of State for India, was entrusted with formulating
Indian policy. The Governor-General of
India gained a new title,
Viceroy of India, and implemented the policies devised by the India
Office. Some former East
India Company territories, such as the
Straits Settlements, became colonies in their own right. The British
colonial administration embarked on a program of reform, trying to
integrate Indian higher castes and rulers into the government and
abolishing attempts at Westernization. The Viceroy stopped land grabs,
decreed religious tolerance and admitted Indians into civil service,
albeit mainly as subordinates.
Essentially the old East
India Company bureaucracy remained, though
there was a major shift in attitudes. In looking for the causes of the
Rebellion the authorities alighted on two things: religion and the
economy. On religion it was felt that there had been too much
interference with indigenous traditions, both
Hindu and Muslim. On the
economy it was now believed that the previous attempts by the Company
to introduce free market competition had undermined traditional power
structures and bonds of loyalty placing the peasantry at the mercy of
merchants and money-lenders. In consequence the new
British Raj was
constructed in part around a conservative agenda, based on a
preservation of tradition and hierarchy.
On a political level it was also felt that the previous lack of
consultation between rulers and ruled had been another significant
factor in contributing to the uprising. In consequence, Indians were
drawn into government at a local level. Though this was on a limited
scale a crucial precedent had been set, with the creation of a new
'white collar' Indian elite, further stimulated by the opening of
universities at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, a result of the Indian
Universities Act. So, alongside the values of traditional and ancient
India, a new professional middle class was starting to arise, in no
way bound by the values of the past. Their ambition can only have been
stimulated by Queen Victoria's Proclamation of November 1858, in which
it is expressly stated, "We hold ourselves bound to the natives of our
Indian territories by the same obligations of duty which bind us to
our other subjects...it is our further will that... our subjects of
whatever race or creed, be freely and impartially admitted to offices
in our service, the duties of which they may be qualified by their
education, ability and integrity, duly to discharge."
Acting on these sentiments, Lord Ripon, viceroy from 1880 to 1885,
extended the powers of local self-government and sought to remove
racial practices in the law courts by the Ilbert Bill. But a policy at
once liberal and progressive at one turn was reactionary and backward
at the next, creating new elites and confirming old attitudes. The
Ilbert Bill had the effect only of causing a white mutiny and the end
of the prospect of perfect equality before the law. In 1886 measures
were adopted to restrict Indian entry into the civil service.
Captain C Scott of the Gen. Sir. Hope Grant's Column, Madras Regiment,
who fell on the attack of Fort of Kohlee, 1858. Memorial at the St.
Mary's Church, Madras
Memorial inside the York Minster
Bengal army dominated the Indian army before 1857 and a direct
result after the rebellion was the scaling back of the size of the
Bengali contingent in the army. The
Brahmin presence in the
Bengal Army was reduced because of their perceived primary role as
mutineers. The British looked for increased recruitment in the Punjab
Bengal army as a result of the apparent discontent that
resulted in the
The rebellion transformed both the native and European armies of
British India. Of the 74 regular
Bengal Native Infantry regiments in
existence at the beginning of 1857, only twelve escaped mutiny or
disbandment. All ten of the
Bengal Light Cavalry regiments were
lost. The old
Bengal Army had accordingly almost completely vanished
from the order of battle. These troops were replaced by new units
recruited from castes hitherto under-utilised by the British and from
the minority so-called "Martial Races", such as the
Sikhs and the
The inefficiencies of the old organisation, which had estranged sepoys
from their British officers, were addressed, and the post-1857 units
were mainly organised on the "irregular" system. From 1797 until the
rebellion of 1857, each regular
Bengal Native Infantry regiment had
had 22 or 23 British officers, who held every position of
authority down to the second-in-command of each company. In irregular
units there were fewer European officers, but they associated
themselves far more closely with their soldiers, while more
responsibility was given to the Indian officers.
The British increased the ratio of British to Indian soldiers within
India. From 1861 Indian artillery was replaced by British units,
except for a few mountain batteries. The post-rebellion changes
formed the basis of the military organisation of British
the early 20th century.
Medals were awarded to members of the
British Armed Forces
British Armed Forces and the
British Indian Army
British Indian Army during the rebellion. The 182 recipients of the
Victoria Cross are listed here.
Mutiny Medals were awarded. Clasps were awarded for the
Delhi and the siege and relief of Lucknow.
Indian Order of Merit
A military and civilian decoration of British India, the Indian Order
of Merit was first introduced by the East
India Company in 1837, and
was taken over by the Crown in 1858, following the Indian
Indian Order of Merit
Indian Order of Merit was the only gallantry medal available
to Native soldiers between 1837 and 1907.
See also: First War of Indian Independence (term)
There is no universally agreed name for the events of this period.
India and Pakistan it has been termed as the "War of Independence
of 1857" or "First War of Indian Independence" but it is not
uncommon to use terms such as the "Revolt of 1857". The classification
of the Rebellion being "First War of Independence" is not without its
critics in India. The use of the term "Indian
Mutiny" is considered by some Indian politicians as belittling
the importance of what happened and therefore reflecting an
imperialistic attitude. Others dispute this interpretation.
In the UK and parts of the Commonwealth it is commonly called the
"Indian Mutiny", but terms such as "Great Indian Mutiny", the "Sepoy
Mutiny", the "
Sepoy Rebellion", the "
Sepoy War", the "Great Mutiny",
the "Rebellion of 1857", "the Uprising", the "Mahomedan Rebellion",
and the "Revolt of 1857" have also been used. "The
Indian Insurrection" was a name used in the press of the UK and
British colonies at the time.
Mutiny Memorial in Delhi, a monument to those killed on the
British side during the fighting.
Adas (1971) examines the historiography with emphasis on the four
major approaches: the Indian nationalist view; the Marxist analysis;
the view of the Rebellion as a traditionalist rebellion; and intensive
studies of local uprisings. Many of the key primary and secondary
sources appear in Biswamoy Pati, ed. 1857 Rebellion.
Vasily Vereshchagin. Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English
Thomas Metcalf has stressed the importance of the work by Cambridge
professor Eric Stokes (1924–1981), especially Stokes' The Peasant
and the Raj: Studies in Agrarian Society and Peasant Rebellion in
India (1978). Metcalf says Stokes undermines the assumption
that 1857 was a response to general causes emanating from entire
classes of people. Instead, Stokes argues that 1) those Indians who
suffered the greatest relative deprivation rebelled and that 2) the
decisive factor in precipitating a revolt was the presence of
prosperous magnates who supported British rule. Stokes also explores
issues of economic development, the nature of privileged landholding,
the role of moneylenders, the usefulness of classical rent theory,
and, especially, the notion of the "rich peasant."
Professor Kim Wagner has the most recent survey of the historiography,
and stresses the importance of William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal:
The Fall of a Dynasty,
Delhi 1857. Dalrymple was assisted by Mahmood
Farooqui, who translated key Urdu and Shikastah sources and published
a selection in Besieged: Voices from
Delhi 1857. Dalrymple
emphasized the role of religion, and explored in detail the internal
divisions and politico-religious discord amongst the rebels. He did
not discover much in the way of proto-nationalism or any of the roots
India in the rebellion. Sabbaq Ahmed has looked at
the ways in which ideologies of royalism, militarism, and Jihad
influenced the behaviour of contending
Almost from the moment the first sepoys mutinied in Meerut, the nature
and the scope of the
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857 has been contested and
argued over. Speaking in the House of Commons in July 1857, Benjamin
Disraeli labelled it a 'national revolt' while Lord Palmerston, the
Prime Minister, tried to downplay the scope and the significance of
the event as a 'mere military mutiny'. Reflecting this debate, an
early historian of the rebellion, Charles Ball, used the word mutiny
in his title, but labelled it a 'struggle for liberty and independence
as a people' in the text. Historians remain divided on whether
the rebellion can properly be considered a war of Indian independence
or not, although it is popularly considered to be one in India.
Arguments against include:
India did not exist at that time in political, cultural, or
The rebellion was put down with the help of other Indian soldiers
drawn from the Madras Army, the
Bombay Army and the
80% of the East
India Company forces were Indian;
Many of the local rulers fought amongst themselves rather than uniting
against the British;
Sepoy regiments disbanded and went home rather than fight;
Not all of the rebels accepted the return of the Mughals;
The King of
Delhi had no real control over the mutineers;
The revolt was largely limited to north and central India. Whilst
risings occurred elsewhere they had little impact because of their
A number of revolts occurred in areas not under British rule, and
against native rulers, often as a result of local internal politics;
The revolt was fractured along religious, ethnic and regional
The hanging of two participants in the Indian Rebellion, Sepoys of the
31st Native Infantry. Albumen silver print by Felice Beato, 1857
A second school of thought while acknowledging the validity of the
above-mentioned arguments opines that this rebellion may indeed be
called a war of India's independence. The reasons advanced are:
Even though the rebellion had various causes, most of the rebel sepoys
who were able to do so, made their way to
Delhi to revive the old
Mughal empire that signified national unity for even the Hindus
There was a widespread popular revolt in many areas such as Awadh,
Bundelkhand and Rohilkhand. The rebellion was therefore more than just
a military rebellion, and it spanned more than one region;
The sepoys did not seek to revive small kingdoms in their regions,
instead they repeatedly proclaimed a "country-wide rule" of the
Mughals and vowed to drive out the British from "India", as they knew
it then. (The sepoys ignored local princes and proclaimed in cities
they took over: Khalq Khuda Ki, Mulk Badshah Ka, Hukm Subahdar Sipahi
Bahadur Ka – "the people belong to God, the country to the Emperor
and authority to the
Sepoy Commandant"). The objective of driving out
"foreigners" from not only one's own area but from their conception of
the entirety of "India", signifies a nationalist sentiment;
The mutineers, although some were recruited from outside Oudah,
displayed a common purpose.
The Government of
India celebrated the year 2007 as the 150th
anniversary of "India's First War of Independence". Several books
written by Indian authors were released in the anniversary year
including Amresh Mishra's "War of Civilizations", a controversial
history of the Rebellion of 1857, and "Recalcitrance" by Anurag Kumar,
one of the few novels written in English by an Indian based on the
events of 1857.
In 2007, a group of retired British soldiers and civilians, some of
them descendants of British soldiers who died in the conflict,
attempted to visit the site of the Siege of Lucknow. However, fears of
violence by Indian demonstrators, supported by the
Bharatiya Janata Party, prevented the British visitors from visiting
the site. Despite the protests, Sir Mark Havelock was able to
make his way past police to visit the grave of his ancestor, General
In popular culture
Henry Nelson O'Neil's 1857 painting Eastward Ho! depicting British
soldiers say farewell to their loved ones as they embark on a
deployment to India.
Bengal Brigade – A 1954 film: at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny.
A British officer, Captain Claybourne (Hudson), is cashiered from his
regiment over a charge of disobeying orders, but finds that his duty
to his men is far from over
Shatranj Ke Khilari
Shatranj Ke Khilari – A 1977 Indian film directed by Satyajit Ray,
chronicling the events just before the onset of the Revolt of 1857.
The focus is on the British annexation of Oudh, and the detachment of
the nobility from the political sphere in 19th-century India.
Junoon (1978 film)
Junoon (1978 film) – Directed by Shyam Benegal, it is a critically
acclaimed film about the love affair between a Pathan feudal chief and
a British girl sheltered by his family during the revolt.
Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005) – Ketan Mehta's Hindi film
chronicles the life of Mangal Pandey.
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) features a sequence inspired by
the massacre at Cawnpore.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – During the dinner scene at
the fictional Pankot Palace, Indiana Jones mentions that Captain
Blumburtt was telling him about the role which the palace played in
"the mutiny" and Chattar Lal complains, "It seems the British never
Mutiny of 1857".
The Last Cartridge, an Incident of the
Sepoy Rebellion in
– A fictionalized account of a British fort besieged during the
1857: Ek Safarnama – A play by Javed Siddiqui, set during the
Rebellion of 1857 and staged at Purana Qila, Delhi.
Malcolm X's autobiography The Autobiography of
Malcolm X details his
first encounters with atrocities in the non-European world and his
reaction to the rebellion and massacres in 1857.
John Masters's novel Nightrunners of Bengal, first published by
Michael Joseph in 1951 and dedicated to the
Sepoy of India, is a
fictionalised account of the Rebellion as seen through the eyes of a
British Captain in the
Bengal Native Infantry who was based in
Bhowani, itself a fictionalised version of the town of Jhansi. Captain
Savage and his turbulent relationship with the Rani of Kishanpur form
an analogous interrelationship of the Indian people and the British
and sepoy regiments at that time.
J. G. Farrell's 1973 novel
The Siege of Krishnapur
The Siege of Krishnapur details the siege
of the fictional Indian town of Krishnapur during the Rebellion.
George MacDonald Fraser's 1975 novel
Flashman in the Great Game
Flashman in the Great Game deals
with the events leading up to and during the Rebellion.
Two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
Sherlock Holmes stories, The Sign of
the Four and "The Adventure of the Crooked Man," feature events that
took place during the Rebellion.
Michael Crichton's 1975 novel The Great Train Robbery mentions the
Rebellion and briefly details the events of the Siege of Cawnpore, as
the Rebellion was happening in tandem with the trial of Edward
The majority of M. M. Kaye's novel Shadow of the Moon is set between
1856–58, and the Rebellion is shown to greatly affect the lives of
the main characters, who were inhabitants of the Residency at Lunjore
(a fictional town in north India). The early chapters of her novel The
Far Pavilions take place during the Rebellion, which leads to the
protagonist, a child of British ancestry, being raised as a Hindu.
Indian writer Ruskin Bond's fictional novella A Flight of Pigeons is
set around the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It is from this story that
the film Junoon was later adapted in 1978 by Shyam Benegal.
The 1880 novel
The Steam House
The Steam House by
Jules Verne takes place in the
aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Jules Verne's famous character Captain Nemo, originally an Indian
prince, fought on the side of the rebels during the rebellion (as
stated in Verne's later novel The Mysterious Island).
E. M. Forster's 1924 novel A Passage to
India alludes several times to
Flora Annie Steel's novel On the Face of the Waters (1896) describes
incidents of the Mutiny.
The plot of H. Beam Piper's science fiction novel
Uller Uprising is
based on the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Rujub, the juggler and In Times of Peril: A tale of
India by G.A.
Henty are each based on the Indian Rebellion of 1857
Political warfare in British colonial India
Bengal Native Infantry
Mutiny of 1824
Shahzada Muhammad Hidayat Afshar, Ilahi Bakhsh Bahadur
^ "The events of 1857–58 in
India (are) known variously as a mutiny,
a revolt, a rebellion and the first war of independence (the debates
over which only confirm just how contested imperial history can
become) ...(page 63)"
^ ""The 1857 rebellion was by and large confined to northern Indian
Gangetic Plain and central India."
^ "The revolt was confined to the northern Gangetic plain and central
^ Although the majority of the violence occurred in the northern
Indian Gangetic plain and central India, recent scholarship has
suggested that the rebellion also reached parts of the east and
^ "What distinguished the events of 1857 was their scale and the fact
that for a short time they posed a military threat to British
dominance in the Ganges Plain."
^ "Indian soldiers and the rural population over a large part of
India showed their mistrust of their rulers and their
alienation from them. ... For all their talk of improvement, the new
rulers were as yet able to offer very little in the way of positive
inducements for Indians to acquiesce in the rule."
^ "Many Indians took up arms against the British, if for very diverse
reasons. Explanations have therefore to concentrate on the motives of
those who actually rebelled."
^ "On the other hand, a very large number actually fought for the
British, while the majority remained apparently acqueiscent."
^ The cost of the rebellion in terms of human suffering was immense.
Two great cities,
Delhi and Lucknow, were devastated by fighting and
by the plundering of the victorious British. Where the countryside
resisted, as in parts of Awadh, villages were burnt. Mutineers and
their supporters were often killed out of hand. British civilians,
including women and children, were murdered as well as the British
officers of the sepoy regiments."
^ "The south, Bengal, and the Punjab remained unscathed, ..."
^ "... it was the support from the Sikhs, carefully cultivated by the
British since the end of the Anglo-
Sikh wars, and the disinclination
of the Bengali intelligentsia to throw in their lot with what they
considered a backward
Zamindar revolt, that proved decisive in the
course of the struggle.
^ "(they) generated no coherent ideology or programme on which to
build a new order."
^ "The events of 1857–58 in India, ... marked a major watershed not
only in the history of British
India but also of British imperialism
as a whole."
^ "Queen Victoria's Proclamation of 1858 laid the foundation for
Indian secularism and established the semi-legal framework that would
govern the politics of religion in colonial
India for the next
century. ... It promised civil equality for Indians regardless of
their religious affiliation, and state non-interference in Indians'
religious affairs. Although the Proclamation lacked the legal
authority of a constitution, generations of Indians cited the Queen's
proclamation in order to claim, and to defend, their right to
religious freedom." (page 23)
^ The proclamation to the "Princes, Chiefs, and People of India,"
Queen Victoria on November 1, 1858. "We hold ourselves bound
to the natives of our Indian territories by the same obligation of
duty which bind us to all our other subjects." (p. 2)
^ "When the governance of
India was transferred from the East India
Company to the Crown in 1858, she (Queen Victoria) and Prince Albert
intervened in an unprecedented fashion to turn the proclamation of the
transfer of power into a document of tolerance and clemency. ... they
... insisted on the clause that stated that the people of
enjoy the same protection as all subjects of Britain. Over time, this
royal intervention led to the Proclamation of 1858 becoming known in
the Indian subcontinent as 'the Magna Carta of Indian liberties', a
phrase which Indian nationalists such as Gandhi later took up as they
sought to test equality under imperial law" (pages 38–39)
^ "In purely legal terms, (the proclamation) kept faith with the
principles of liberal imperialism and appeared to hold out the promise
that British rule would benefit Indians and Britons alike. But as is
too often the case with noble statements of faith, reality fell far
short of theory, and the failure on the part of the British to live up
to the wording of the proclamation would later be used by Indian
nationalists as proof of the hollowness of imperial principles. (page
^ "Ignoring ...the conciliatory proclamation of
Queen Victoria in
1858, Britishers in
India saw little reason to grant Indians a greater
control over their own affairs. Under these circumstances, it was not
long before the seed-idea of nationalism implanted by their reading of
Western books began to take root in the minds of intelligent and
Gurkhas by W. Brook Northey, John Morris.
ISBN 81-206-1577-8. Page 58
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empire from the Georgians to Prince George", in Aldrish, Robert;
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Hindu and Muslim, exploited
the well-founded caste-suspicions of the sepoys and made these simple
folk their cat's paw in gamble for recovering their thrones. The last
scions of the
Delhi Mughals or the
Oudh Nawabs and the Peshwa, can by
no ingenuity be called fighters for Indian freedom Hindusthan
Standard, Puja Annual, 195 p. 22 referenced in the Truth about the
Indian mutiny article by Dr Ganda Singh
^ In the light of the available evidence, we are forced to the
conclusion that the uprising of 1857 was not the result of careful
planning, nor were there any master-minds behind it. As I read about
the events of 1857, I am forced to the conclusion that the Indian
national character had sunk very low. The leaders of the revolt could
never agree. They were mutually jealous and continually intrigued
against one another. ... In fact these personal jealousies and
intrigues were largely responsible for the Indian defeat.Maulana Abul
Kalam Azad, Surendranath Sen: Eighteen Fifty-seven (Appx. X &
^ >Hasan 1998, p. 149
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^ "Il y a cent cinquante ans, la révolte des cipayes". 1 August
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Zealand, 29 August 1857
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1857–58," Journal of Asian History, 1971, Vol. 5 Issue 1, pp 1–19
^ It includes essays by historians Eric Stokes, Christopher Bayly,
Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Tapti Roy, Rajat K. Ray and others. Biswamoy
Pati (2010), The 1857 Rebellion, Oxford University Press,
^ For the latest research see Crispin Bates, ed.,
Mutiny at the
Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857: Volume I:
Anticipations and Experiences in the Locality (2013)
^ Thomas R. Metcalf, "Rural society and British rule in nineteenth
century India." Journal of Asian Studies 39#1 (1979): 111–119.
^ M. Farooqui, trans (2010) Besieged: voices from
Delhi 1857 Penguin
^ Kim A. Wagner, "The Marginal Mutiny: The New
Historiography of the
Indian Uprising of 1857," History Compass 9/10 (2011): 760–766,
quote p 760 doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2011.00799.x
^ See also Kim A. Wagner (2010), The Great Fear Of 1857: Rumours,
Conspiracies and the Making of the Indian Uprising, Peter Lang,
p. 26, ISBN 9781906165277
^ Sabbaq Ahmed, "Ideology and
Muslim militancy in India: Selected case
studies of the 1857 Indian rebellion." (PhD Dissertation, Victoria
University of Wellington (NZ), 2015). online
^ The Indian
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Princeton University Press, Princeton 2007
^ The History of the Indian Mutiny: Giving a detailed account of the
sepoy insurrection in
India by Charles Ball, The London Printing and
Publishing Company, London, 1860
^ V.D. Savarkar argues that the rebellion was a war of Indian
independence. The Indian War of Independence: 1857 (Bombay: 1947
). Most historians have seen his arguments as discredited, with
one venturing so far as to say, 'It was neither first, nor national,
nor a war of independence.' Eric Stokes has argued that the rebellion
was actually a variety of movements, not one movement. The Peasant
Armed (Oxford: 1980). See also S.B. Chaudhuri, Civil Rebellion in the
Indian Mutinies 1857–1859 (Calcutta: 1957)
^ The Indian Mutiny, Spilsbury Julian, Orion, 2007
^ S&T magazine issue 121 (September 1988), page 20
^ The communal hatred led to ugly communal riots in many parts of U.P.
The green flag was hoisted and Muslims in Bareilly, Bijnor, Moradabad,
and other places the Muslims shouted for the revival of Muslim
kingdom." R. C. Majumdar:
Mutiny and Revolt of 1857 (page
^ Sitaram Yechury. The Empire Strikes Back Archived 8 February 2007 at
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grave". BBC News.
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1857, Delhi: Oxford University Press, p. 291,
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Spear, Percival (1990) [First published 1965], A History of India,
Volume 2, New
Delhi and London: Penguin Books,
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Stanley, Peter (1998), White Mutiny: British Military Culture in
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Stein, Burton (2001), A History of India, New Delhi: Oxford University
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day-by-day account of the major events of 1857–1859 in India, Delhi:
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Alam Khan, Iqtidar (May–June 2013), "The Wahabis in the 1857 Revolt:
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Invalid Thanah 1780–1830", Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge
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Baker, David (1991), "Colonial Beginnings and the Indian Response: The
Revolt of 1857–58 in Madhya Pradesh", Modern Asian Studies, 25 (3):
511–543, doi:10.1017/S0026749X00013913, JSTOR 312615
Blunt, Alison (July 2000), "Embodying war: British women and domestic
defilement in the Indian "Mutiny", 1857–8", Journal of Historical
Geography, 26 (3): 403–428, doi:10.1006/jhge.2000.0236
English, Barbara (February 1994), "The
Kanpur Massacres in
the Revolt of 1857", Past & Present, Oxford University Press, 142:
169–178, doi:10.1093/past/142.1.169, JSTOR 651200
Hasan, Farhat; Roy, Tapti (1998), "Review of Tapti Roy, The Politics
of a Popular Uprising, OUP, 1994", Social Scientist, 26 (1):
Klein, Ira (July 2000), "Materialism,
Mutiny and Modernization in
British India", Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, 34
(3): 545–580, JSTOR 313141
Lahiri, Nayanjot (June 2003), "Commemorating and Remembering 1857: The
Delhi and Its Afterlife", World Archaeology, Taylor &
Francis, 35 (1): 35–60, doi:10.1080/0043824032000078072,
Mukherjee, Rudrangshu (August 1990), "'Satan Let Loose upon Earth':
Kanpur Massacres in
India in the Revolt of 1857", Past &
Present, Oxford University Press, 128: 92–116,
doi:10.1093/past/128.1.92, JSTOR 651010
Mukherjee, Rudrangshu (February 1994), "The
Kanpur Massacres in India
in the Revolt of 1857: Reply", Past & Present, Oxford University
Press, 142: 178–189, doi:10.1093/past/142.1.178,
Nanda, Krishan (September 1965), The Western Political Quarterly, 18
(3), University of Utah on behalf of the Western Political Science
Association, pp. 700–701 .
Roy, Tapti (February 1993), "Visions of the Rebels: A Study of 1857 in
Bundelkhand", Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, 27
(1): 205–228 (
Special Issue: How Social, Political and Cultural
Information Is Collected, Defined, Used and Analyzed),
doi:10.1017/S0026749X00016115, JSTOR 312882
Stokes, Eric (December 1969), "Rural Revolt in the Great Rebellion of
1857 in India: A Study of the Saharanpur and
The Historical Journal, Cambridge University Press, 12 (4): 606–627,
doi:10.1017/s0018246x00010554, JSTOR 2638016
Washbrook, D. A. (2001), "India, 1818–1860: The Two Faces of
Colonialism", in Porter, Andrew, Oxford History of the British Empire:
The Nineteenth Century, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
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Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman
Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman (2008), "1857 ki Jung-e Azadi main Khandan ka
hissa", Hayat Karam Husain (2nd ed.), Aligarh/India: Ibn Sina Academy
of Medieval Medicine and Sciences, pp. 253–258,
Historiography and memory
Bates, Crispin, ed.
Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the
Indian Uprising of 1857 (5 vol. SAGE Publications India, 2013–14).
online guide; With illustrations, maps, selected text and more.
Chakravarty, Gautam. The Indian
Mutiny and the British Imagination
(Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Deshpande, Prachi. "The Making of an Indian Nationalist Archive:
Lakshmibai, Jhansi, and 1857." journal of Asian studies 67#3 (2008):
Erll, Astrid. "Re-writing as re-visioning: Modes of representing the
‘Indian Mutiny’in British novels, 1857 to 2000." European Journal
of English Studies 10.2 (2006): 163–185. online
Frykenberg, Robert E. (2001), "
India to 1858", in Winks, Robin, Oxford
History of the British Empire: Historiography, Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, pp. 194–213,
Pati, Biswamoy (12–18 May 2007). "Historians and Historiography:
Situating 1857". Economic and Political Weekly. 42 (19): 1686–1691.
Perusek, Darshan (Spring 1992). "Subaltern Consciousness and the
Historiography of the Indian Rebellion of 1857". NOVEL: A Forum on
Fiction. Duke University Press. 25 (3): 286–301.
doi:10.2307/1345889. JSTOR 1345889.
Wagner, Kim A. (October 2011). "The Marginal Mutiny: The New
Historiography of the Indian Uprising of 1857". History Compass. 9
(10): 760–766. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2011.00799.x.
Dalrymple, William (2006), The Last Mughal, Viking Penguin,
David, Saul (2003), The Indian Mutiny: 1857, London: Penguin Books,
Pp. 528, ISBN 0-14-100554-8
David, Saul (2007), Victoria's Wars, London: Penguin Books,
Mishra, Amaresh. 2007. War of Civilisations: The Long Revolution
India AD 1857, 2 Vols.), ISBN 978-81-291-1282-8
Ward, Andrew. Our Bones Are Scattered. New York: Holt & Co., 1996.
First person accounts and classic histories
Anderson, Clare. The Indian Uprising of 1857–8: Prisons, Prisoners,
and Rebellion. London, 2007.
Barter, Captain Richard The Siege of Delhi.
Mutiny memories of an old
officer, London, The Folio Society, 1984.
Campbell, Sir Colin. Narrative of the Indian Revolt. London: George
Collier, Richard. The Great Indian Mutiny. New York: Dutton, 1964.
Forrest, George W. A History of the Indian Mutiny, William Blackwood
and Sons, London, 1904. (4 vols)
Fitchett, W.H., B.A., LL.D., A Tale of the Great Mutiny, Smith, Elder
& Co., London, 1911.
Inglis, Julia Selina, Lady, 1833–1904, The Siege of Lucknow: a
Diary, London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1892. Online at A
Celebration of Women Writers.
Innes, Lt. General McLeod: The
Sepoy Revolt, A.D. Innes & Co.,
Kaye, John William. A History of the
Sepoy War In
India (3 vols).
London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1878.
Kaye, Sir John & Malleson, G.B.: The Indian
Mutiny of 1857, Rupa
& Co., Delhi, (1st edition 1890) reprint 2005.
Khan, Syed Ahmed (1859), Asbab-e Baghawat-e Hind, Translated as The
Causes of the Indian Revolt, Allahabad, 1873
Malleson, Colonel G.B. The Indian
Mutiny of 1857. New York: Scribner
& Sons, 1891.
Marx, Karl & Freidrich Engels. The First Indian War of
Independence 1857–1859. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,
Pandey, Sita Ram, From
Sepoy to Subedar, Being the Life and Adventures
of Subedar Sita Ram, a Native Officer of the
Bengal Native Army,
Written and Related by Himself, trans. Lt. Col. Norgate, (Lahore:
Bengal Staff Corps, 1873), ed. James Lunt, (Delhi: Vikas Publications,
Raikes, Charles: Notes on the Revolt in the
North-Western Provinces of
India, Longman, London, 1858.
Roberts, Field Marshal Lord, Forty-one Years in India, Richard
Bentley, London, 1897
Forty-one years in
India at Project Gutenberg
Russell, William Howard, My Diary in
India in the years 1858-9,
Routledge, London, 1860, (2 vols.)
Sen, Surendra Nath, Eighteen fifty-seven, (with a foreword by Maulana
Abul Kalam Azad), Indian Ministry of Information & Broadcasting,
Thomson, Mowbray (Capt.), The Story of Cawnpore, Richard Bentley,
Trevelyan, Sir George Otto, Cawnpore, Indus, Delhi, (first edition
1865), reprint 2002.
Wilberforce, Reginald G, An Unrecorded Chapter of the Indian Mutiny,
Being the Personal Reminiscences of Reginald G. WIlberforce, Late 52nd
Infantry, Compiled from a Diary and Letters Written on the Spot
London: John Murray 1884, facsimile reprint: Gurgaon: The Academic
"Indian Mutiny." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Online.
https://www.britannica.com/event/Indian-Mutiny. 23 March 1998.
"Lee-Enfield Rifle." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 March 1998.
Fictional and narrative literature
Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Sign of the Four, featuring Sherlock Holmes,
originally appearing in
Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
Lippincott's Monthly Magazine 1890.
Farrell, J.G. The Siege of Krishnapur. New York: Carroll & Graf,
1985 (orig. 1973; Booker Prize winner).
Fenn, Clive Robert. For the Old Flag: A Tale of the Mutiny. London:
Sampson Low, 1899.
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman in the Great Game. London: Barrie
& Jenkins, 1975.
Grant, James. First Love and Last Love: A Tale of the Mutiny. New
Routledge & Sons, 1869.
Kaye, Mary Margaret. Shadow of the Moon. New York: St. Martin's Press,
Kilworth, Garry Douglas. Brothers of the Blade: Constable &
Leasor, James. Follow the Drum. London: Heinemann, 1972, reissued
James Leasor Ltd, 2011.
Masters, John. Nightrunners of Bengal. New York: Viking Press, 1951.
Raikes, William Stephen. 12 Years of a Soldier's Life In India.
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.
Julian Rathbone, The Mutiny.
Rossetti, Christina Georgina. "In the Round Tower at Jhansi, 8 June
1857." Goblin Market and Other Poems. 1862.
Anurag Kumar. Recalcitrance: a novel based on events of 1857–58 in
Lucknow. Lucknow: AIP Books,
Stuart, V.A. The Alexander Sheridan Series: # 2: 1964. The Sepoy
Mutiny; # 3: 1974. Massacre at Cawnpore; # 4: 1974. The Cannons of
Lucknow; 1975. # 5: The Heroic Garrison. Reprinted 2003 by McBooks
Press. (Note: # 1 – Victors & Lords deals with the Crimean War.)
Valerie Fitzgerald "Zemindar": 1981 Bodley Head. historic novel.
Frédéric Cathala, 1857, KDP, 2017, historical novel.
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