The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857

by Instant Noodle

India was the colony that Britain actually cared about; the original and best. It generated far more for the British Empire than anywhere else, and it provided a substantial army of loyal subjects.

In a way, it’s a miracle that India was kept for as long as it was. Things began to look hairy in 1857, the time of the Sepoy Rebellion. Of course, Britain managed to snatch India back, but it certainly was no dead cert.

Sepoys were indians that were recruited into fighting for the British. In many ways, the British had grown complacent with their position in India, asserting themselves as natural leaders. In June 1857, Nana Sahib who fooled the Cawnpore commander, General Sir Hugh Wheeler into letting his guards in to protect the treasury.

Big mistake. The Sepoys ransacked the treasury, triggering an uprising that spread to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Dehli, Agra, Kunch and Gwalior. The British fought back… eventually. The major lesson learnt by the British was not to take this colony for granted.

Charles “Clemency” Canning received his nickname after trying to appease the “mutineers” by issuing a declaration that any mutineer who had not committed murder could be spared execution.

This seems rather shocking by modern standards. However, we’re forgetting the scale of public horror that was expressed against the Indians, after tales began to surface about rapings of English women and children. Consequently, the harsh measures led to “near universal approval” by the British public; even in the most liberal of circles.

‘The Hanging of Two Rebels”, by Felice Beato, 1858. Albumen silver print. From Wikipedia commons

Punch is accordingly appalled at the ferociousness of the rebellion army, and has some of the most gruesome cartoons and poems to demonstrate this.

SOLDIER ! when thou, beneath thy bayonet,
Shalt get a devilish Sepoy, save the wretch,
Safe if thou canst but make him, for Jack Ketch
His howls, which none who heard them should forget,
Were lost amid war’s uproar ; rather let
The miscreant swing in exemplary throes
Upon the gallows; but if thou suppose
That show uncertain, then exact our debt,
And there; in full: but be not thou defiled
In imitation of the accursed beast,
Who babes and women slew with lingering pain.
Upon the wretched slave thy vengeance feast;
There stop : nor let his guilt thy manhood stain,
But spare the Indian mother and her child.

And here’s another slightly sinister one.

A lay of love and Gentleness.

OH ! be not too hard on the poor mutineers,
Though your women and children with torment they slew,
Though we dare but to whisper their deeds in your ears,
Don’t punish them more than ’tis needful to do.
Though they slaughtered your kindred, not wholly like sheep,
Because with fell outrage and fiendish device,
Be content for their errors to sit, down and weep,
If tears will to hinder such errors suffice.
If a gentle rebuke, if a tender appeal.
Will render those cruel and cowardly sous
Of Moloch sufficient examples, a deal
‘Twere better than blowing them off from your guns.
Do not hang your black brothers to woman and child
Though they did all that devils could ever invent
If by means more affectionate, gentle, and mild,
You can others deter, and cause them to repent.
Oh ! pray do not hang them, provided they dread
Any doom more than death by the gallows and rope ;
If you know any such, it will fall on the head
Of each infamous wretch of a Sepoy, we hope.

(September 5th, 1857)