Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Great Mutiny India 1857

Christopher Hibbert in 1978 set out to record the causes, events and consequences of the Great Indian Mutiny in 1857 extending into 1858.

English merchants commenced trading in India in the reign of Elizabeth I and in 1613 the East Indian Company was granted permission to establish a permanent trading station at Bombay. The influence of the company grew as additional trading stations were established. Eventually British soldiers were needed to protect the interests of the East India Company in India. During the 18th century expansion of the company accelerated and alliances and treaties were made with Indian princes who were prepared to surrender some power while those who opposed the British were defeated. In 1773 a Regulating Act was passed in England making the East India Company responsible for governing its territories and by 1784 the East India Company was an agent of the British Government in India. By the 1850s the Company was the British Government's representative in the civil administration of India and was also responsible for the armies in Bengal, Madras and Bombay manned by native soldiers (sepoys) and native cavalrymen (sowars). Regiments of the British Army were also stationed in India. By 1856 the ratio of British soldiers to Indian soldiers was 1 to 6.

Lord Dalhousie became Governor General of India in 1848 and during the eight years of his term he implemented many changes that caused unrest among some of the Indian population, particularly among the ranks of Indian soldiers. Dalhousie implemented changes reforming the ownership of land resulting in a number of people from varying ranks being dispossessed of their land. Resentment that new laws and regulations threatened traditional customs and in some cases religious practices and were implemented from a foreign government began to cause unrest. There were also problems with some of the ammunition provided to the Indian soldiers.

In 1857 sections of the Indian army, in company with disgruntled princes and other leaders, mutinied against the British and any other foreigners in their territory resulting in mass murder of men, women and children. By May there had been murders of Europeans at Meerut and in Delhi. June saw the mutiny and siege at Cawnpore resulting in the massacre of most of the Europeans in the city followed by brutal retaliation inflicted by some of the British soldiers on suspected siege participants when Nana Sahib fled the city. The mutiny and siege at Lucknow also resulted in the loss of many lives. By June 1858 the battles were over and relative calm returned to the areas of India affected by the mutiny. In November 1858 Britain abolished the East India Company and took control of governing India in its own right.

As well as providing detailed and graphic account of the events relating to the mutiny Chrisopher Hibbert vividly describes conditions in India during the 1850s for the Europeans - soldiers, civil servants and their families - and also the Indians involved with the Europeans. As well as a glossary and chronology there are detailed notes, bibliography and index. For those interested in this period of Indian and British history this is a good book to read.

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