Complete Books

Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief









































































What Brought About the Mutiny?

'What brought about the Mutiny?' and 'Is there any chance of a similar rising occurring again?' are questions which are constantly being put to me; I will now endeavour to answer them, though it is not a very easy task—for I feel that my book will be rendered more interesting and complete to many if I endeavour to give them some idea of the circumstances which, in my opinion, led to that calamitous crisis in the history of our rule in India, and then try to show how I think a repetition of such a disaster may best be guarded against.

The causes which brought about the Mutiny were so various, and some of them of such long standing, that it is difficult to point them out as concisely as I could wish; but I will be as brief as possible.

During the first years of our supremacy in India, Hindus and Mahomedans alike were disposed to acquiesce in our rule—the blessings of rest and peace after a long reign of strife and anarchy were too real not to be appreciated; but as time went by, a new generation sprang up by whom past miseries were forgotten, and those who had real grievances, or those who were causelessly discontented, were all ready to lay the blame for their real or fancied troubles on their foreign rulers. Mahomedans looked back to the days of their Empire in India, but failed to remember how completely, until we broke the Mahratta power, the Hindus had got the upper hand. Their Moulvies taught them that it was only lawful for true Mussulmans to submit to the rule of an infidel if there was no possibility of successful revolt, and they watched for the chance of again being able to make Islam supreme. The Hindus had not forgotten that they had ousted the Mahomedans, and they fancied that the fate of the British raj might also be at their mercy.

The late Sir George Campbell, in his interesting memoirs, says: 'The Mutiny was a sepoy revolt, not a Hindu rebellion.' I do not altogether agree with him; for, although there was no general rising of the rural population, the revolt, in my judgment, would never have taken place had there not been a feeling of discontent and disquiet throughout that part of the country from which our Hindustani sepoys chiefly came, and had not certain influential people been thoroughly dissatisfied with our system of government. This discontent and dissatisfaction were produced by a policy which, in many instances, the Rulers of India were powerless to avoid or postpone, forced upon them as it was by the demands of civilization and the necessity for a more enlightened legislation. Intriguers took advantage of this state of affairs to further their own ends. Their plan of action was to alienate the Native army, and to increase the general feeling of uneasiness and suspicion, by spreading false reports as to the intentions of the authorities in regard to the various measures which had been adopted to promote the welfare[Page 232] and prosperity of the masses. It can hardly be questioned that these measures were right and proper in themselves, but they were on that account none the less obnoxious to the Brahmin priesthood, or distasteful to the Natives generally. In some cases also they were premature, and in others they were not carried out as judiciously as they might have been, or with sufficient regard to the feelings and prejudices of the people.

The prohibition of sati (burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands); the putting a stop to female infanticide; the execution of Brahmins for capital offences; the efforts of missionaries and the protection of their converts; the removal of all legal obstacles to the remarriage of widows; the spread of western and secular education generally; and, more particularly, the attempt to introduce female education, were causes of alarm and disgust to the Brahmins, and to those Hindus of high caste whose social privileges were connected with the Brahminical religion. Those arbiters of fate, who were until then all-powerful to control every act of their co-religionists, social, religious or political, were quick to perceive that their influence was menaced, and that their sway would in time be wrested from them, unless they could devise some means for overthrowing our Government. They knew full well that the groundwork of this influence was ignorance and superstition, and they stood aghast at what they foresaw would be the inevitable result of enlightenment and progress. Railways and telegraphs were specially distasteful to the Brahmins: these evidences of ability and strength were too tangible to be pooh-poohed or explained away. Moreover, railways struck a direct blow at the system of caste, for on them people of every caste, high and low, were bound to travel together.

The fears and antagonism of the Brahmins being thus aroused, it was natural that they should wish to see our rule upset, and they proceeded to poison the minds of the people with tales of the Government's determination to force Christianity upon them, and to make them believe that the continuance of our power meant the destruction of all they held most sacred.

Religious Fears of the People Nor was opportunity wanting to confirm, apparently, the truth of their assertions. In the gaols a system of messing had been established which interfered with the time-honoured custom of every man being allowed to provide and cook his own food. This innovation was most properly introduced as a matter of gaol discipline, and due care was taken that the food of the Hindu prisoners should be prepared by cooks of the same or superior caste. Nevertheless, false reports were disseminated, and the credulous Hindu population was led to believe that the prisoners' food was in future to be prepared by men of inferior caste, with the object of defiling and degrading those for whom it was prepared. The news of what was supposed to have happened in the[Page 233] gaols spread from town to town and from village to village, the belief gradually gaining ground that the people were about to be forced to embrace Christianity.

As the promiscuous messing story did not greatly concern the Mahomedans, other cries were made use of to create suspicion and distrust amongst the followers of the Prophet. One of these, which equally affected the Hindu and Mahomedan, was the alleged unfairness of what was known in India as the land settlement, under which system the right and title of each landholder to his property was examined, and the amount of revenue to be paid by him to the paramount Power, as owner of the soil, was regulated.

The rapid acquisition of territory by the East India Company, and the establishment of its supremacy as the sovereign Power throughout India, were necessarily effected by military operations; but as peace and order were established, the system of land revenue, which had been enforced in an extremely oppressive and corrupt manner under successive Native Rulers and dynasties, had to be investigated and revised. With this object in view, surveys were made, and inquiries instituted into the rights of ownership and occupancy, the result being that in many cases it was found that families of position and influence had either appropriated the property of their humbler neighbours, or evaded an assessment proportionate to the value of their estates. Although these inquiries were carried out with the best intentions, they were extremely distasteful to the higher classes, while they failed to conciliate the masses. The ruling families deeply resented our endeavours to introduce an equitable determination of rights and assessment of land revenue. They saw that it would put an end to the system of pillage and extortion which had been practised from time immemorial; they felt that their authority was being diminished, and that they would no longer be permitted to govern their estates in the same despotic manner as formerly. On the other hand, although the agricultural population generally benefited materially by our rule, they could not realize the benevolent intentions of a Government which tried to elevate their position and improve their prospects. Moreover, there were no doubt mistakes made in the valuation of land, some of it being assessed at too high a rate, while the revenue was sometimes collected in too rigid a manner, sufficient allowance not being made for the failure of crops. Then the harsh law for the sale of proprietary rights in land to realize arrears of land-tax was often enforced by careless revenue authorities in far too summary a manner. The peasantry of India were, and still are, ignorant and apathetic. Accustomed from the earliest days to spoliation and oppression, and to a periodical change of masters, they had some reason to doubt whether the rule of the Feringhis would be more permanent than that of the Moghuls or the Mahrattas. Much as a just and tolerant Government would[Page 234] have been to their advantage, they were unable to appreciate it, and if they had appreciated it, they were too timid and too wanting in organization to give it their open support. Under these social and political conditions, the passive attitude of the rural population failed to counterbalance the active hostility of a large section of the upper classes, and of their predatory followers, who for centuries had lived by plunder and civil war.

Another weighty cause of discontent, chiefly affecting the wealthy and influential classes, and giving colour to the Brahmins' accusation that we intended to upset the religion and violate the most cherished customs of the Hindus, was Lord Dalhousie's strict enforcement of the doctrine of the lapse of property in the absence of direct or collateral heirs, and the consequent appropriation of certain Native States, and the resumption of certain political pensions by the Government of India. This was condemned by the people of India as grasping, and as an unjustifiable interference with the institutions of the country, and undoubtedly made us many enemies.1

The Annexation of Oudh Later on, the annexation of Oudh, which was one of those measures forced on the Rulers of India in the interests of humanity and good government, and which could hardly have been longer delayed, created suspicion and apprehension amongst all the Native States. For more than sixty years Governor-General after Governor-General had pointed out the impossibility of a civilized Government tolerating in the midst of its possessions the misrule, disorder, and debauchery which were desolating one of the most fertile and thickly-populated districts in India.

As early as 1801 Lord Wellesley wrote: 'I am satisfied that no effectual security can be provided against the ruin of the province of Oudh until the exclusive management of the civil and military government of that country shall be transferred to the Company under[Page 235] suitable provisions for the Nawab and his family.'

In 1831 Lord William Bentinck warned the King of Oudh that, unless he would consent to rule his territories in accordance with the principles of good government and the interest of the people, the East India Company would assume the entire administration of the province, and would make him a state prisoner.

In 1847 Lord Hardinge went in person to Lucknow and solemnly reiterated the warning, giving the King two years to reform his administration.

In 1851 Colonel Sleeman, the Resident at Lucknow, whose sympathy with the Rulers of Native States was thought to be even too great, and who was the last person to exaggerate the misrule existing in Oudh, reported to Lord Dalhousie that the state of things had become intolerable, and that, if our troops were withdrawn from Oudh, the landholders would in one month's time overrun the province and pillage Lucknow. It is true Sleeman, with his Native proclivities, did not contemplate annexation; his advice was to 'assume the administration,' but not to 'grasp the revenues of the country.' The same mode of procedure had been advocated by Henry Lawrence six years before in an article which appeared in the Calcutta Review. His words were: 'Let Oudh be at last governed, not for one man, the King, but for the King and his people. Let the administration of the country be Native; let not one rupee come into the Company's coffers.'

Sleeman was followed in 1854 by Colonel Outram, than whom he could not have had a more admirable successor, or one less likely to be unnecessarily hard upon a State which, with all its shortcomings, had been loyal to us for nearly a century. Colonel Outram, nevertheless, fully endorsed the views of his predecessor. General Low, the then Military Member of Council, who twenty years before, when Resident at Lucknow, had deprecated our assuming even temporarily the administration of Oudh, thinking our action would be misunderstood by the people, now also stated his conviction that 'it was the paramount duty of the British Government to interfere at once for the protection of the people of Oudh.'

In summing up the case, Lord Dalhousie laid three possible courses of action before the authorities in England. The King of Oudh might be forced to abdicate, his province being incorporated in the British dominions; or he might be maintained in his royal state as a subsidized Prince, the actual government being permanently transferred to the East India Company; or the transfer of the government to the East India Company might be for a limited period only. The Governor-General recommended the second course, but the Court of Directors and Her Majesty's Ministers decided to adopt the first, and requested Lord Dalhousie to carry out the annexation before he resigned his office.

This measure, so long deferred and so carefully considered, could[Page 236] hardly, in my opinion, have been avoided by a civilized and civilizing Government. It was at last adopted with the utmost reluctance, and only after the experiment of administering a province for the benefit of the Natives, without annexing it, had been tried in the Punjab and had signally failed. To use Lord Dalhousie's words, it was amply justified on the ground that 'the British Government would be guilty in the sight of God and man if it were any longer to aid in sustaining by its countenance an administration fraught with suffering to millions.' But the Natives generally could not understand the necessity for the measure, or believe in the reasons which influenced us; many of them, therefore, considered it an unprovoked usurpation, and each Ruler of a Native State imagined that his turn might come next.

Fulfilment of Malcolm's Prophesy Thus, the annexation of Oudh in one sense augmented that weakness in our position as an eastern Power which, so to speak, had its source in our strength. So long as there was a balance of power between ourselves and Native States—Mahratta, Rajput, Sikh, or Mahomedan—they were prevented by their mutual jealousies and religious differences from combining against us; but when that balance was destroyed and we became the paramount Power in India, the period of danger to us began, as was prophesied by the far-seeing Malcolm in the early days of our first conquests. We had now become objects of suspicion and dread to all the lesser Powers, who were ready to sink their own disputes in the consideration of the best means to check the extension of our rule and overthrow our supremacy; while we, inflated by our power and satisfied with our apparent security, became more dogmatic and uncompromising in enforcing principles which, though sound and just in themselves, were antipathetic to Native ideas and traditions. By a great many acts and measures we made them feel how completely our ideas differed from theirs. They preferred their own, and strongly resented our increasing efforts to impose ours upon them. Even those amongst the Native Princes who were too enlightened to believe that we intended to force our religion upon them and change all their customs, felt that their power was now merely nominal, and that every substantial attribute of sovereignty would soon disappear if our notions of progress continued to be enforced.

At a time when throughout the country there existed these feelings of dissatisfaction and restless suspicion, it was not to be expected that the most discontented and unfriendly of the Native Rulers would not seize the opportunity to work us mischief. The most prominent of these amongst the Mahomedans were the royal family of Delhi and the ex-King of Oudh, and, amongst the Hindus, Dundu Pant, better known by English people as the 'Nana Sahib.'

All three considered themselves badly treated, and no doubt, from their point of view, their grievances were not altogether groundless. The King of Oudh's I have already indicated, and when his province[Page 237] was annexed, he was removed to Calcutta. Having refused the yearly pension of twelve lakhs2 of rupees offered to him, and declined to sign the treaty by which his territory was made over to the British Government, he sent his mother, his son, and his brother to England to plead his cause for him.

The Delhi Royal Family The most influential of the three discontented Rulers, or, at all events, the one whom the rebellious of all castes and religions were most inclined to put forward as their nominal leader, was the head of the Delhi royal family, by name Bahadur Shah. He was eighty years old in 1857, and had been on the throne for twenty years. His particular grievance lay in the fact of our decision that on his death the title of King, which we had bestowed on the successors of the Moghul Emperor, should be abolished, and his family removed from Delhi.

In the early part of the century Lord Wellesley pointed out the danger of allowing a Mahomedan Prince, with all the surroundings of royalty, to remain at the seat of the old Moghul government, but the question was allowed to remain in abeyance until 1849, when Lord Dalhousie reconsidered it, and obtained the sanction of the authorities in England to the removal of the Court from Delhi to a place about fourteen miles off, where the Kutub tower stands. At the same time the Heir Apparent was to be told that on his father's death the title of King of Delhi would cease.

Lord Dalhousie had been only a short time in India when he took up this question, and he could not properly have appreciated the estimation in which the Natives held the King of Delhi, for he wrote in support of his proposals 'that the Princes of India and its people had become entirely indifferent to the condition of the King or his position.' But when the decision of the British Government on the subject reached India, he had been more than two years in the country, and although his views as to the desirability of the measure remained unchanged, the experience he had gained enabled him to gauge more accurately the feelings of the people, and, with the advice of his Council, he came to the conclusion that it would be wiser to let affairs remain in statu quo during Bahadur Shah's lifetime. The royal family were informed accordingly, and an agreement was drawn up, signed, sealed, and witnessed, by which the Heir Apparent accepted the conditions to be imposed upon him on the death of his father, who was to be allowed to remain in Delhi during his lifetime, with all the paraphernalia of royalty.

However satisfactory this arrangement might be to the Government of India, to every member of the Delhi royal family it must have seemed oppressive and humiliating to the last degree. Outwardly they appeared to accept the inevitable quietly and submissively, but[Page 238] they were only biding their time, and longing for an opportunity to throw off the hated English yoke. The war with Persia in 1856 seemed to offer the chance they wanted. On the pretence that the independence of Herat was threatened by the Amir of Kabul, the Persians marched an army to besiege that place. As this act was a violation of our treaty with Persia made three years before, Her Majesty's Government directed that an army should be sent from India to the Persian Gulf. The troops had scarcely left Bombay before the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces was warned by a Native correspondent that the King of Delhi was intriguing with the Shah of Persia. At the same time a proclamation was posted on the walls of the Jama Masjid (Shah Jehan's famous mosque at Delhi), to the effect that a Persian army was coming to relieve India from the presence of the English, and calling on all true believers to rise and fight against the heretics. Reports were also diligently circulated of our being defeated on the shores of the Persian Gulf, and the people were made to believe that their opportunity had arrived, and that the time was now favourable for a successful rebellion.

The Nana Sahib Of the three principal movers in the events which immediately preceded the Mutiny, the Nana Sahib was by far the most intelligent, and had mixed most with Europeans. He was the adopted son and heir of the last of the Peshwas, the Chiefs of the Mahratta confederacy. His cause of dissatisfaction was the discontinuance to him of a pension which, at the close of the Mahratta war in 1818, was granted to the Peshwa, on the clear understanding that it was to cease at his death. The Peshwa died in 1851, leaving the Nana an enormous fortune; but he was not content. The lapse of the pension, to which he was not entitled, rankled in his breast, and when all his efforts to get it restored to him proved of no avail, he became thoroughly disgusted and disaffected. After failing to obtain in India a reconsideration of the decision of the Government on the subject, he sent to England as confidential agent a Mahomedan of the name of Azimula Khan, who remained three years in Europe, residing for the most part in London; but he also visited Paris, Constantinople, and the Crimea, arriving at the latter place when we, in alliance with the French, were besieging Sebastopol. He was a man of no rank or position in his own country, a mere agent of the Nana's, but he was received into the best English society, was everywhere treated as a royal Prince, and became engaged to a young English girl, who agreed to follow him to India to be married. All this was revealed by the correspondence to which I have referred as having been found in the Nana's palace of Bithur. The greater number of these letters were from people in England—not a few from ladies of rank and position. One elderly dame called him her dear eastern son. There were numerous letters from his English fiancée, and two from a Frenchman of the name of Lafont,3 relating to some[Page 239] business with the French settlement of Chandernagore, with which he had been entrusted by Azimula Khan, acting for the Nana. Written, as these letters were, immediately before the Mutiny, in which the Nana was the leading spirit, it seems probable that 'les principales choses,' to which Lafont hopes to bring satisfactory answers, were invitations to the disaffected and disloyal in Calcutta, and perhaps the French settlers at Chandernagore, to assist in the effort about to be made to throw off the British yoke. A portion of the correspondence was unopened, and there were several letters in Azimula's own handwriting which had not been despatched. Two of these were to Omar Pasha at Constantinople, and told of the sepoys' discontent and the troubled state of India generally. That the Nana was intriguing with the King of Delhi, the Nawab of Oudh, and other great personages, has been proved beyond a doubt, although at the time he was looked upon by the British residents at Cawnpore as a perfectly harmless individual, in spite of its being known that he considered himself aggrieved on account of his having been refused the continuance of the[Page 240] pension, and because a salute of guns (such as it is the custom to give to Native Princes on entering British territory) had not been accorded to him.

The Native Army While the spirit of rebellion was thus being fostered and stirred into active existence throughout the country, it was hardly to be hoped that the Native army would be allowed to remain unaffected by a movement which could not easily attain formidable proportions without the assistance of the Native soldiers, who themselves, moreover, had not remained unmoved spectators of all that had happened during the previous thirty or forty years. The great majority of the sepoys were drawn from the agricultural classes, especially in the province of Oudh, and were therefore directly interested in all questions connected with rights of property, tenure of land, etc.; and questions of religion and caste affected them equally with the rest of the population.

Greased Cartridges Quietly, but surely, the instigators of rebellion were preparing the Native army for revolt. The greatest cunning and circumspection were, however, necessary to success. There were so many opposing interests to be dealt with, Mahomedans and Hindus being as violently hostile to each other, with regard to religion and customs, as they were to us. Soldiers, too, of all ranks had a great stake in their profession. Some had nearly served their time for their pensions, that greatest of all attractions to the Native to enter the army, for the youngest recruit feels that, if he serves long enough, he is sure of an income sufficient to enable him to sit in the sun and do nothing for the rest of his days—a Native's idea of supreme happiness. The enemies of our rule generally, and the fanatic in particular, were, however, equal to the occasion. They took advantage of the widespread discontent to establish the belief that a systematic attack was to be made on the faith and habits of the people, whether Hindu or Mahomedan, and, as a proof of the truth of their assertions, they alleged that the Enfield cartridges which had been recently issued to the army were greased with a mixture of cows' fat and lard, the one being as obnoxious to the Hindu as the other is to the Mahomedan. The news spread throughout the Bengal Presidency; the sepoys became alarmed, and determined to suffer any punishment rather than pollute themselves by biting the contaminating cartridge, as their doing so would involve loss of caste, which to the Hindu sepoy meant the loss of everything to him most dear and sacred in this world and the next. He and his family would become outcasts, his friends and relations would look on him with horror and disgust, while eternal misery, he believed, would be his doom in the world to come.

It has been made quite clear that a general belief existed amongst the Hindustani sepoys that the destruction of their caste and religion had been finally resolved upon by the English, as a means of forcing them to become Christians, and it seems extraordinary that the English officers with Native regiments were so little aware of the strength of this[Page 241] impression amongst their men.

The recent researches of Mr. Forrest in the records of the Government of India prove that the lubricating mixture used in preparing the cartridges was actually composed of the objectionable ingredients, cows' fat and lard, and that incredible disregard of the soldiers' religious prejudices was displayed in the manufacture of these cartridges. When the sepoys complained that to bite them would destroy their caste, they were solemnly assured by their officers that they had been greased with a perfectly unobjectionable mixture. These officers, understanding, as all who have come in contact with Natives are supposed to understand, their intense abhorrence of touching the flesh or fat of the sacred cow or the unclean pig, did not believe it possible that the authorities could have been so regardless of the sepoys' feelings as to have allowed it to be used in preparing their ammunition: they therefore made this statement in perfect good faith. But nothing was easier than for the men belonging to the regiments quartered near Calcutta to ascertain, from the low-caste Native workmen employed in manufacturing the cartridges at the Fort William arsenal, that the assurances of their officers were not in accordance with facts, and they were thus prepared to credit the fables which the sedition-mongers so sedulously spread abroad, to the effect that the Government they served and the officers who commanded them had entered into a deliberate conspiracy to undermine their religion.

Limited Number of British Troops Notwithstanding all the evil influence brought to bear on the Native army, I do not think that the sepoys would have proved such ready instruments in the hands of the civilian intriguers, had that army been organized, disciplined, and officered in a satisfactory manner, and had there been a sufficient proportion of British troops in India at the time. To the great preponderance of Native, as compared with British, troops may be attributed the fact that the sepoys dared to break into open mutiny. Moreover, the belief of the Natives in the invincibility of the British soldier, which formerly enabled small numbers of Europeans to gain victories over large Native armies, had been seriously weakened by the lamentable occurrences at Kabul during the first Afghan war, terminating in the disastrous retreat in the winter of 1841-42.

To add to the exalted idea the sepoys were beginning to entertain of their own importance, they were pampered by their officers and the civil Government to a most absurd extent, being treated under all circumstances with far greater consideration than the European soldiers. For instance, in the time of Lord William Bentinck flogging was abolished in the Native army,4 while still in full swing amongst British soldiers, and sepoys were actually allowed to witness the[Page 242] humiliation of their white comrades when this degrading form of punishment was inflicted upon them.

In the early days of our connexion with India, we had no need for an army. Living, as we were, on sufferance in a foreign land for commercial purposes, armed men were only required to guard the factories. As these factories increased in size and importance, these armed men were given a semi-military organization, and in time they were formed into levies as a reserve to the few Europeans entertained by the merchants, to enable them to hold their own against the French, who were then beginning to dispute with us for supremacy in southern India. When employed in the field, the Native troops were associated with a varying proportion of British soldiers, but the number of the latter was limited by the expense of their maintenance, the difficulty of supplying them from England, and the unadvisability of locking up a part of the British army in distant stations, which at that time were very inaccessible and generally unhealthy. Native troops were therefore raised in continually increasing numbers, and after the battle of Plassey the Native army was rapidly augmented, especially in the Bengal Presidency; and, trained and led as it was by British officers, it achieved remarkable successes.

During the thirteen years preceding the Mutiny, the Native army, numbering 217,000 men and 176 guns, was increased by 40,000 men and 40 guns, but no addition was made to the small British force of 38,000 until 1853, when one regiment was added to each Presidency, or less than 3,000 soldiers in all. This insignificant augmentation was subsequently more than neutralized by the withdrawal of six British regiments from India to meet the requirements of the Crimean and Persian wars. Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General in 1854, saw the danger of this great preponderance of Native troops. He represented that the annexations and conquests which had taken place during his tenure of office necessitated a proportional increase of British soldiers; he protested against the withdrawal of a single European regiment, either on account of the war with Russia or for operations in the Persian Gulf, and he solemnly warned Her Majesty's Government that the essential element of our strength in India was the presence of a large number of British troops.

No attention, however, was paid to Lord Dalhousie's representations by the authorities in England, who doubtless thought they understood the requirements of India better than the Governor-General, with his more than six years' experience of the country. In spite of his remonstrances, two regiments were ordered to England, and four were sent later to the Persian Gulf, with the result which I have already stated.

When the Mutiny broke out, the whole effective British force in India only amounted to 36,000 men, against 257,000 Native soldiers,5 [Page 243] a fact which was not likely to be overlooked by those who hoped and strived to gain to their own side this preponderance of numerical strength, and which was calculated to inflate the minds of the sepoys with a most undesirable sense of independence. An army of Asiatics, such as we maintain in India, is a faithful servant, but a treacherous master; powerfully influenced by social and religious prejudices with which we are imperfectly acquainted, it requires the most careful handling; above all, it must never be allowed to lose faith in the prestige or supremacy of the governing race. When mercenaries feel that they are indispensable to the maintenance of that authority which they have no patriotic interest in upholding, they begin to consider whether it would not be more to their advantage to aid in overthrowing that authority, and if they decide that it would be, they have little scruple in transferring their allegiance from the Government they never loved, and have ceased to fear, to the power more in accordance with their own ideas, and from which, they are easily persuaded, they will obtain unlimited benefits.

Objection to Foreign Service A fruitful cause of dissatisfaction in our Native army, and one which pressed more heavily upon it year by year, as our acquisitions of territory in northern India became more extended, was the sepoy's liability to service in distant parts of India, entailing upon him a life amongst strangers differing from him in religion and in all their customs, and far away from his home, his family, and his congenial surroundings—a liability which he had never contemplated except in the event of war, when extra pay, free rations and the possibility of loot, would go far to counterbalance the disadvantages of expatriation. Service in Burma, which entailed crossing the sea, and, to the Hindu, consequent loss of caste, was especially distasteful. So great an objection, indeed, had the sepoys to this so-called 'foreign service,' and so difficult did it become to find troops to relieve the regiments, in consequence of the bulk of the Bengal army not being available for service beyond the sea, that the Court of Directors sanctioned Lord Canning's proposal that, after the 1st September, 1856, 'no Native recruit shall be accepted who does not at the time of his enlistment undertake to serve beyond the sea whether within the territories of the Company or beyond them.' This order, though absolutely necessary, caused the greatest dissatisfaction amongst the Hindustani sepoys, who looked upon it as one of the measures introduced by the Sirkar for the forcible, or rather fraudulent, conversion of all the Natives to Christianity.6

Excessive Age of the British Officers That the long-existing discontent and growing disloyalty in our[Page 244] Native army might have been discovered sooner, and grappled with in a sufficiently prompt and determined manner to put a stop to the Mutiny, had the senior regimental and staff officers been younger, more energetic, and intelligent, is an opinion to which I have always been strongly inclined. Their excessive age, due to a strict system of promotion by seniority which entailed the employment of Brigadiers of seventy, Colonels of sixty, and Captains of fifty, must necessarily have prevented them performing their military duties with the energy and activity which are more the attributes of younger men, and must have destroyed any enthusiasm about their regiments, in which there was so little hope of advancement or of individual merit being recognized. Officers who displayed any remarkable ability were allowed to be taken away from their own corps for the more attractive and better-paid appointments appertaining to civil employ or the Irregular service. It was, therefore, the object of every ambitious and capable young officer to secure one of these appointments, and escape as soon as possible from a service in which ability and professional zeal counted for nothing.7

So far as I understand the causes which led to the rebellion of 1857, I have now answered the question, 'What brought about the Mutiny?' The reply to the second question, 'Is there any chance of a similar rising occurring again?' must be left to another chapter.



[Footnote 1: In this matter it seems to me that Lord Dalhousie's policy has been unfairly criticized. The doctrine of lapse was no new-fangled theory of the Governor-General, but had been recognized and acted upon for many years by the Native dynasties which preceded the East India Company. Under the Company's rule the Court of Directors had investigated the subject, and in a series of despatches from 1834 to 1846 had laid down that, in certain cases, the selection and adoption of an heir by a Native Ruler was an incontestable right, subject only to the formal sanction of the suzerain Power, while in other cases such a procedure was optional, and could only be permitted as a special favour. Lord Dalhousie concurred in the view that each case should be considered and decided on its merits. His words were: 'The Government is bound in duty, as well as in policy, to act on every such occasion with the purest integrity, and in the most scrupulous observance of good faith. Where even a shadow of doubt can be shown, the claim should at once be abandoned. But where the right to territory by lapse is clear, the Government is bound to take that which is justly and legally its due, and to extend to that territory the benefits of our sovereignty, present and prospective.']

[Footnote 2: In those days £120,000.]

[Footnote 3:-

'April 4, 1857.


'Je suis parti de Cawnpore le premier du mois et suis arrivé ici ce matin, je partirai ce soir et serai à Chandernagore le 7 au matin, dans la journée je ferai une visite au Gouverneur et le lendemain irai à Calcutta, je verrai notre Consul General. Ecrivez-moi et adressez-moi vos lettres, No. 123, Dhurumtollah. Je voudrais que vous puissiez m'envoyer des fonds au moins 5 ou 600 Rs. sans retard, car je ne resterai à Calcutta que le temps nécessaire pour tout arranger et le bien arranger. Je suppose 48 heures à Calcutta et deux ou trois jours au plus à Chandernagore, ne perdez pas de temps mais répondez de suite. Pour toutes les principales choses les réponses seraient satisfaisantes, soyez-en assuré.

'Faites en sorte de me répondre sans délai afin que je ne sois pas retenu à Calcutta.

'Présentez mes compliments respectueux.

'Rappelez-moi au souvenir de Baba Sahib, et croyez moi,

'Votre bien dévoué        

'Mon adresse à Chandernagore, "Care of Mesdames Albert."

'N.B.—Mais écrivez-moi à Calcutta, car je serai chaque jour là, en chemin de fer, je fais le trajet en 20 minutes. Si vous avez quelque chose de pressé à me communiquer vous le pouvez faire par télégraph en Anglais seulement.


'Chandernagore,     'April 9, 1857.


'J'ai tout arrangé, j'apporterai une lettre, et elle sera satisfaisante cette lettre me sera donnée le 14 et le 15 je partirai pour Cawnpore. Mes respects à son Altesse.

'Votre tout dévoué    


[Footnote 4: Flogging was re-introduced in 1845.]

[Footnote 5: This does not include the bodies of armed and trained police, nor the lascars attached to the Artillery as fighting men. These amounted to many thousands.]

[Footnote 6: In a letter to Lord Canning, which Sir Henry Lawrence wrote on the 9th May, 1857, he gave an interesting account of a conversation he had had with a Brahmin Native officer of the Oudh Artillery, who was most persistent in his belief that the Government was determined to make the people of India Christians. He alluded especially to the new order about enlistment, our object being, he said, to make the sepoys go across the sea in order that they might be obliged to eat what we liked; and he argued that, as we had made our way through India, had won Bhartpur, Lahore, etc., by fraud, so it might be possible that we would mix bone-dust with grain sold to Hindus. Sir Henry Lawrence was quite unable to convince the Native officer; he would give us credit for nothing, and although he would not say that he himself did or did not believe, he kept repeating, 'I tell you Natives are all like sheep; the leading one tumbles, and down all the rest roll over him.']

[Footnote 7: It is curious to note how nearly every military officer who held a command or high position on the staff in Bengal when the Mutiny broke out, disappeared from the scene within the first few weeks, and was never heard of officially again. Some were killed, some died of disease, but the great majority failed completely to fulfil the duties of the positions they held, and were consequently considered unfit for further employment. Two Generals of divisions were removed from their commands, seven Brigadiers were found wanting in the hour of need, and out of the seventy-three regiments of Regular Cavalry and Infantry which mutinied, only four Commanding officers were given other commands, younger officers being selected to raise and command the new regiments.]