Wolpert_Mutiny - Cary Academy

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Wolpert_Mutiny - Cary Academy

FIFTEENUNIFICATION,MODERNIZATION,AND REVOLT(1848-58);rhe policy of the government of India, pursued under Dalhousie's.direction from r848 to r856, was primarily one of internal unificationand modernization. Though no one was quite so optimistic as toimagine that India could be turned into an Asian version of Britainin a matter of years or decades, there was, nonetheless, a spirit ofdynamism and self-confidence, typified by the Punjab's regime, thatseemed to radiate from the new governor-genera!'s office, reaching outto the most remote backwater districts The revenue surplus derived_..JmID..1he.._c.Qn,qJl~_Land.. pacificatjon of the punjab was so suhstantialthat,_eYeD from jts..Jirst year, the total cost of the two army corpsl'eeded to cOE.troLthat turbulent region, in addition to aU expenses ofcivil gOyexllll1rnt could be paid from it and still leave a "permanent.surplus of fifty lacs (5 milliou rupees) per annum."! In addition,British irrigation technology was applied to the Punjab's fertile soiland soon augmented the region's yield so greatly that the directors ofLeadenhaU Street assured Dalhousie of their warmest supportDalhousie's more significant contribution to the government'scoffers, however, came not as a result of costly martial conquest, but. ather through the direct annexation of lands still owned by the com·pany's princely "allies," who were stripped one by one of their privilegeddomains under the spurious Jegal doctrines of "lapse" and1 From the COllIt of Directors to Dalhousie, October 26, 1853.quoted in Ramsay Muir, The Making of Briti,h India I756-I858 (Manchester:Manchester University Press, 1923), p. 350UNIFICAIION, MODERNIZAIION, AND REVOLT 227"paramountcr" It was not, of course, easy for the British, having sorecently and firmly implanted their faith in private property and legalcontract on Indian soil, to turn a blind eye to both simply for the sakeof more revenue;,they could always find something "debauched" or:'pepraved" about the Indian princes, howeve!.>... that_ would justifLtearing up treaties and stealing their states. The doctrine of lapse wasfirst used against the raja of Satara, direct heir to Shivaji Indiancustom had always treated royally adopted heirs with the same respect(or lack thereof) accorded to first-born natural sons in Britain, butin 1848 Dalhousie decided .that "heirs and successors" .ill. the treatywith Satara and all similar treaties with princely states applied onk_to "heirs natural." When the "worthless" raja died that year with onlyan adopted son as his "successor," the company seized direct controlover Satara and its revenue Sir Tohn Hobhouse, president of theBoard of Control, not only agreed with Dalhousie's novel and ingeniusinterpretation of the law, but clearly anticipated it, suggesting: "Ihave a very strong opinion that on the death of the present princewithout a son, no adoption should be permitted, and this petty principalityshould be merged in the British Empire."2 iC/VlIi'a j /."" :After r849, when the doctrine of lapse found its precedent in. common Jaw. the doctrine was 12ursued with increased aSSUI ance .£y.. the new, steam-ro11ering Raj. The sma11 states of Jaitpur in centralIndia and Sambalpur in Bengal were taken by lapse in 1849; in 1850Baghat of the Punjab hilJ states fe11; and in 1852 the Rajput state ofUdaipur "lapsed," followed by the central Indian_state of Jhansi in18.5.W.I.hl:. rani who would, inIact, have ruled the latter had Dalhousierecognized her husband's adopted heir-proved four years laterthaL she was braver, _ bolder, and better than most at figlitmg on'horseback, and she has come to be known as the "Joan of Ind!a "JIn r854 the huge and once powerful state of Nagpur, home of ave!four million Mar athas, was also plucked by lapse, its eighty thousandsquare miles painted red overnight, closing the company's ring fencesolidly round Hyderabad to its south Additional revenues of approximatelyfOUl million pounds sterling were thus added to the company's2 Hobhouse to Dalhousie, guoted in Edward Thompson and G, IGarratt, Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India (london: Macmillan,1934; reprinted in photo-offset by Central Book Depot, Allahabad,r962 ),p.401fic


228 A NEW HISTORY OF INDIAannual resources by the stroke of a lawyer's quill rather than throughthe more costly and messy method of war. British self-confidence inspiredfurther financial acquisitions by introducing a somewhat differentform of lapse, one that applied to pensioner's titles and their pensions,which had been awarded as compensation for lands long sinceseized. The most famous of these deposed leaders of defeated nativepowers, was the former peshwa of Poona, whose pension of £ 80,000was declared to have "lapsed" when he died without any natural heirin 1853. His adopted son, Nana Sahib, was soon after to become thefocal point of rebellion against the Raj in Cawnpore, on the outskirtsof whjch tbe former perhwa's palace stood rotting in disrepair, aswarming beehive of Maratha conspiracy. The title and pension ofthe nawab of the Carnatic also lapsed that year, as did that of the rajaof Tanjore two years later Dalhousie sought to dispense with theMughal emperor's title and yearly stipend as well, but on that pointhe met with conservative resistance in London, where great royalty,however weak its actual powers might become, found enough vigoroussupport that the throne of old Bahadur Shah II was preserved forwhat was soon to be a more wretched fateThe process of territorial unification so forcefully pursued byDalhousie was but the first step in his master plan for the developmentof an Indian empire in emulation of modern Britain As Dalhousieexplicitly informed the directors in his summary minute tothem, on the eve of his departure, he had labored to harness to India'sbullock-cart civilization "three great engines of social improvement,which the sagacity and science of recent times had previously given tothe Western nations-I mean Railways, uniform Postage, and theElectric Telegraph"3 Ihough the possibility of building a railway inSouth India had been discussed as early as r 832, nothing was doneabout actually starting one until 1850, when Dalhousie finally insistedon commencing construction of two experimental lines; onefrom Howrah, opposite Calcutta on the Hughly's right bank, to thecoal fields at Raniganj ISO miles inland; the other from Bombay cityeast to Thana, only 2 I miles inland. The Great Indian PeninsularRailway opened its Bombay line to public traffic, India's first railwaypassenger service, on April 16, 1853 There had been apprehension3 Minute by Dalhousie, February 28, 1856, repIinted in Muir, opcit., pp 352-78UNIFICAIION, MODERNIZA:rION, AND REVOLT 229that Hindus might object to traveling on such smoke-filled monsters,but the trains proved most popular from the start and inaugurated anew era of rapid economic development and social change Dalhousienow proposed a broad general scheme for railway constructionthroughout India, designed to link the three presidency capitals ofBombay, Madras, and Calcutta, with a trunk line up the Ganges fromCalcutta to Delhi and Lahore. He favored continUing private Britishdevelopment of this ambitious network, under the guaranteed-interestagreements negotiated by the board at 4 percent, and he quite prescientlyanticipated that his railroad plan, if adopted by the court, would"confer upon India the greatest boon she has ever received from thepower of England "4 I" '" {I V ,I lv


230 A NEW HISTORY OF INDIAdelight that there have never since been sufficient seats in all the thirdclasscarriages to accommodate half the passengers waiting to ride.During its first year of operation alone, some half million passengerstravelled on the short Bombay line, while in Bengal there were twelvethousand third-class passengers crammed into the few available carriagesevery week "The fondness for travelling by the rail has become.~hnost a national passion among the inferior orders,". noted theIndian News by mid-I8sS'India's first electric telegraph line was laid by the ingenius Dr.William O'Shaughnessey in Bengal in 1851, and afteI testing itseffectiveness for almost a year, Dalhousie strongly supportedO'Shaughnessey's recommendation that Calcutta, Agra, Lahore,Bombay, and Madras be linked by wire .. lhe telegraph cable had alreadyjoined England to France, and there was talk in London of runninga submarine cable from England to Bombay, before the directorsof the East India Company actually approved funds for rigging somethree thousand miles of electric wire across India. Dalhousie personallymapped the route of the first major Indian telegraph, from Calcutta toBanaras, Allahabad, Agra, Ambala, Lahore, and Peshawar He rightlypredicted that the most critical use to which such a line would be putwas political, and indeed it may have saved the empire for Britain in1857, when word of the "mutiny" was flashed 824 miles from Agra toCalcutta along that fragile imperial lifeline before it could be severedby rebel sepoys Commercially, however, the telegraph proved secondin value and importance only to the railroad, providing instant andcontinuing information and contact to entrepreneurs across the subcontinent,stimulating industry as well as trade. India's first longdistancetelegraph message was flashed by O'Shaughnessey in Agra toDalhousie in Calcutta on March 24, 1854, and two weeks later, whenthe great Ganges Canal, 525 miles long, was opened at Roorkee athousand miles northwest of Calcutta, the governor-general receivedtelegraph confirmation the same day In one year a total of twentyfivehnndred miles of telegraph line had been completed, linking India'smajor cities, including Calcutta and Bombay, sixteen hundredmiles apart. Because of this revolution in communication technology,Dalhousie was able to send reinforcements to Turkey a month faster5 July r 7, r855, quoted in Das, op cit., P 96UNIFICATION, MODERNIZAIION, AND REVOLT 231than would have been possible a year earlier, thus helping Englandwin the Cr imean WarThe wire's potential value to India's postal service was earlyrecognized, though not immediately taken advantage of. India's firstPost Office Act had been passed in 1837, the year Sir Rowland Hillunveiled his revolutionary penny post idea in Great Britain lhe powerfullyunifying and commercially stimulating concept of carrying anyletter any distance within a nation for a penny was not, however, introducedto British India until 1854 Again, it was Dalhousie who hadthe personal interest and initiative necessary to transfmm India's inefficientsystem of private, regional posts into a modern, nationalminiature of Britain's Post Office Department lhe half-anna perletter postage revolutionized individual powers of communicationthroughout India, and the one-anna uniform rate for newspaperstransformed their opinion-making potential from the local to theprovincial, and even national, arena Within three months the numberof letters posted in Calcutta increased by 50 percent, and in Tune1855 the postal and telegraph systems were Officially linked, providingIndia with its first swift, efficient, and astonishingly cheap meansof nationwide communication. Letters could hereafter be calliedmuch further in India than anywhere in Britain for the equivalent ofonly three-quarters of a penny Though most of India's populationwould long remain illiterate, the pOOl est village peasant could nowafford to send a message to a distant relation, if he could find someoneto write it for him and read the response lhe penny post thus servednot only to unite the subcontinent as nothing else had ever done, butit became a most important new stimulus to learning, literacy, literature,and sociocultural change of every imaginable kind It was, indeed,more "miraculous" than the railroad or telegraph alone, for itreached beyond cities, towns, and military camps to the villages ofIUral India, stirring stagnant backwaters that were overgrown by traditionalisolation and lifting clouds of dust with the new winds ofthought, report, and possibility raised in its fast-woving wakeHad Dalhousie left India in 1855, the combined impact of hispolicies of modernization, annexation of the Punjab and LowerBurma, and integration of the princely states might well have earnedhim the title of Father of Indian Nationalism For, though what hedid was clearly inspired by the company's need for more revenue and


~'OJ,..232 A NEW HISTORY OF INDIAby selfish British desires to link India more effectively to imperial interests,Jh~"Jesul!.§.


234 A NEW HISTORY OF INDIA.A command 232,000 sepoys, defending and controlling a land of more'\ than 200 million Indians, was irreparably shatteredFrom Barrackpur to Meerut, regiment after reluctant sepoy}J regiment was lined up, with British-manned artillery aimed at themfrom high ground on their flanks, and each time the order to "loadrifles!" was refused, another unit was erased from the Bengal Army'slist, its troops ignominiously stripped of their insignia and left to walkhome to their villages-mostly in Oudh-without pay, without theprospect of pension, without a tinge of the pride they had once feltin their uniforms. The sepoys were left with only bitter hatred for theLBaj that had seduced, deceived, and finally rejected them. That hatredspread from Calcutta to Meerut and, mixed with older strains of resentmentalready prevalent at Delhi, Lucknow, and Cawnpore, itgrew particularly strong in those centers of deposed Muslim and Marathanobility. Rumors of water supplies polluted with dead pigs andof cow bones ground into sugar were added to tales of The CartridgeStrange incidents soon were noted by loyal sepoys, who reported toBritish officers that "holy men" came to the gates of their cantonmentwith chapattis or a lotus, and that the wheat cake or flower would bepassed solemnly from soldier to soldier until every sepoy in sight hadtouched the talisman, whose snbstance seemed mystically to unitethem, before it was handed back to the silent mulla or fakir, whowould then quickly depart Was it a signal of some sort? A promise?A warning? No clear evidence of widespread conspiracy has emerged, .. though Wajid Ali's and Nana Sahib's men ventured far and wide in.the first five months of 1857 and may have made contact with membersof Bahadur Shah's court in London, Calcutta, or Delhi, as theydid with Dost Muhammad's agents from KabuL ~~The "mutiny," which was soon)o become a full-scale Anglo­Indian War. was ignited at Meerut on Satnrday. May 9. 1857. Thatmorning, as the sun blazed down on the cantonment's parade ground,the Meerut Brigade stood at attention watching eighty-five of theirsepoy comrades who had refused to load rifles being manacled andshackled in irons by blacksmiths before being led off to prison cellsThose hammer blows of British discipline proved to be Meerut's bat·tle cry of rebellion The next day all three of the sepoy regiments atthe camp rose in revolt while their British officers were at church.They freed the prisoners, killed several officers who tried to stopUNIFICATION, MODERNIZATION, AND REVOLT 235them, and headed for the capital of the Great Mughal, only thirtymiles to the south, shouting "Chalo Deihl''' ("Let's go to Delhi!")The British troops at Meerut were not ordered to pursue the rebelforce, and in Delhi itself there were but a handful of Englishmen, incharge of the munitions magazine .Indian soldiers inside Delhi wel­,corned the mutineers with open gates, and though the British officers.blew up their powder magazine, the palace and its populace were"liberated" from British control on May r I, and the reluctant Bahadur~hah II was "restored" to imperial glory. The mutiny had become arevolt. the Great Mughal its rallying cry and symbol. Had the emperorhimself been younger or more ambitious, he might have led hisnew army down the Gangetic plain to Cawnpore and Lucknow, or atleast to Agra and perhaps to Lahore, to rally other sepoys and stimulatemass support for his cause. ~ut the old man cared more for .miniature painting than he did for the pursuit of power, and his chilqrenand courtiers could not subordinate personal ambitions !o mobi:lize themselves or the army that had placed itself at their disposal Sothe initial victory, a bold action that dealt a paralyzing blow to Britishpower, was left to dissipate with the heat of Mayas the sepoys reveledin Delhi's urban pleasures. Nevertheless, as news of the revolt spreadeast and west, other sepoys took similar action, and the British, whohad only a single regiment of English troops between Calcutta andAgra, did virtually nothing to stop or punish the mutineers. In Oudh¢ere was. in fact. nothing less than a national uprising by the end of~_From the courtiers at Lucknow, to taluqdars (landed barons)across the plains, to village peasants, many of whom were related toBengal sepoys, Oudh echoed with cries of revolt Sir Henry Lawrence(1806-57), one of the company's wisest servants, who had too latebeen made chief commissioner at Lucknow, herded his flock of Europeansand Indians into the residency, which he had fortified and provisionedwith enough ammunition and food to hold out until a reliefcolumn arrived that November. ALCawnpore. in early Tune, GeneralSir Hugh Wheeler tried in vain to protect some four hundred men,women, and children in the entrenched camp he had been less carefulto fortify or provision llJqc, held out for only eighteen days beforesilirend"ring to Nana Sahib. who promised them "safe conduct" down. river to Allahabad. No sooner did that ill-fated force climb into theirwi!iling boats, however, than treacherous fire rained down at them


236 A NEW HISIORY OF INDIAfrom the nana's troops on both banks. Only four men escaped to tell. the tale.During the summer of I8S}, the British lost control over NorthIndia's Gangetic heartland and of portions of the Punjab and Deccanas well, but in tbe latter regions only for brief interludes of localizedrebellion In Simla and Calcutta, panic was at first widespread amongthe European communities, but neither seat of the Raj's central governmentwas ever seriously threatened or attacked, nor did any majorunits of the Bombay or Madras presidency armies rebeL Delhi, Lucknowand Cawnpore were the only great centers of revolt, each withits court of restoration-minded rebels, two Muslim, one Hindu Maratha,none able or willing to join forces with the others in a unifiednational struggle. Oudh came closest to presenting a united front ofopposition to British imperial rule, but Oudh was hardly India, andthe region's former king remained captive in Calcutta Delhi songht toassert Mughal leadership, but so many conflicting factions emergedaround Bahadur Shah that no one proved effective "Proclamations"were issued in the emperor's name, including one at Azimgarh, nearBanaras, dated August 25, 185), which began: "It is well known toall, that in this age the people of Hindoostan, both Hindoos andMohammedans, are being ruined under the tyranny and oppressionof the infidel and treacherous English It is therefore the boundenduty of all the wealthy people of India to stake their lives andproperty for the well being of the public With the view of effectingthis general good, several princes belonging to the royal family ofDelhi, have dispersed themselves in the different parts of India.'"The impact of the military mutiny was magnified by a simultaneousseries of rural rebellions, reflecting, as Professor Stokes hasnoted, not only "peasant resentment at their loss of land controlto 'new men' or urban money-lending castes," but also local grievancesagainst "excessive, differential taxation. "7 Rajput and Jat peasants,who enjoyed strong clan structures, could disown their traditionalrUIalleaders with relative ease Elsewhere in North India, local7Z UhM - UJl(!6rJ/ztUm.at~ct Iu $ ,,:"'.qs -c' . .6 "'The Azamgarh Proclamation," repnnted In r857 m Indw, ed,Ainslie T Embree (Boston: D C. Heath and Company, r963), pp r-37 Eric Stokes, "Traditional Resistance Movements and Afro-AsianNationalism: The Context of the 185'7 Mutiny Rebellion in India," Pastand Present, 48 (August r97o): IIO.UNIFICATION, MODERNIZATION, AND REVOLT 237"rajas," like Devi Singh in Mathura and Kadam Singh near Meerut,emerged overnight to rally a generally reticent peasantry to rise upagainst authority Some districts, however, remained loyal enough tocollect revenue, which was transmitted in part to the British Raj, evendUIing the revolt, by local landlords strong enough to keep their peasantvassals under control While no nationalist leadership (in themodern sense) emerged, the revolt had many subnationaI Indian currents,the most powerful of which was the reassertion of traditionboundmonarchies The greatest landed magnates of Oudh, like ManSingh and Rana Beni Madho, had virtually been feudal monarchs beforethe annexation; now they saw themselves stripped both of theirtraditional martial lordship and of substantial village revenues. Insuch regions, the "mutiny" is more accurately seen to have been a"postpacification" revolt Once aflame with rebellion, the rugged badlandsof central India proved most difficult to pacify, and Bundelathakurs and other Rajput and Maratha local leaders launched effectiveguenilla sorties there well into r8s8 But the traditional inability ofIndian rajas and nawabs to subordinate personal ambitions and jeal­.ousies to national goals plagued rebel ranks from the Great Revolt'sincel'tion._ &- 13 Vi~ ~--!j- ~sed.L.The British, on the other hand, never seriously doubted theirmilitary capacity to win back the ground they had lost; nor, except forsome superannuated generals at Meerut and more than a few merchantsand missionaries at Simla and Calcutta, did they ever loseheart or lose faith in their Raj The only things that almost all of themlost, with the notable exceptions of Canning and John Lawrence(r8II-79), were their tempers and their tolerance toward "nigger.!latives." .As the first word of the murder of British men and womenreached Lahore, Peshawar, Simla, and Calcutta, a teIIible racial fe­-rocity unknown since the Black Hole tragedy, erupted and rnsprredBritish vengeance. Wanton attacks on passive villagers and unarmed~nd,ians, even faithful domestic servants, became common practice inthe wake of the mutiny. Virtually all the bridges so painstakinglyerected between the British and Indian cultures were destroyed byfear and hatred Men like John Nicholson, whose merciful behaviortoward Sikh prisoners had won him their undying loyalty and highregard, went mad at the news of sepoys slaying English women andseriously proposed "flaying alive" any Indian guilty of such a crime,


238 A NEW HISTORY OF INDIAfinding "simple" punishment such as "hanging" intolerable, Captured'''mutineers'' were, in fact, generally blown away from cannon towhich they had been securely strapped Entire villages were put to thetorch for the "crime" of proximity to Cawnpore, Delhi was recap-'tured by British and Sikh troops from the Punjab (The Sikhs, stillsmarting perhaps flOm the memory of how Bengal sepoys had de.­feated their armies, became Britain's staunchest allies in the War ofr857-58, after which they remained one of the major sources of militaryrecruitment) Nicholson, who led the attack into the breechopened by the blown Kashmir gate, was mortally wounded, but bySeptember 20, 1857, Delhi was firmly under British controL Bahadur__ Shah was exiled to Burma_ where he died in 1858, and his sons weremurdered in cold blood by a Captain Hodson, who thus .took uponhimself "the total extinction of a dynasty, the most magnificent thatthe world had ever seen. "8 1)e",.fiuet"lOl? '6"i"-k ~1c.a.JJ;.-.The war continued to rage over northern and central India untillate in 1858, with the rani of Jhansi and Nana Sahib's artillery expert,Tantia Topi, giving Britain's Generals Sir Colin Campbell and SirHugh Rose the most arduous run and combat On July 8, 1858, whenLord Canning proclaimed peace, Nana Sahib was still uncaptured,The rani, however, died on her horse, and T antia was caught andhung, as were most of the other "rebels" It was the fiercest, bloodiestwar ever fought on Indian soil, the last desperate struggle of many anancien regime, united by their fears and their hatred of the foreigner,whose Western Raj had become too powerful to destroy. It was far,more than a mutiny_ the name that British pride has always preferred,.yet much less than a first war of independence, as some Indian na-_~~ts like to call it. It proved to be the final convulsive death gaspnot only of the Mughal Empire, independent Oudh, and the Peshwai,but of the Honourable Company's rule in India, which had lasted pre-I FiseJy one century after Plassey.S John William Kaye, A History of the Sepoy War in India, 1857-[858, 4th ed (London: W H Allen and Co , r880), voL 3, P 646ISIXTEENCROWN RULE­A NEW ORDER --(1858-77) Mt1J'c/ '77M~gab2JJz-.,~&-;,!, et-, ft~ .b.~h,dt:tfThe legacy of the War of 1857-58 was of fundamental and farreachingimport to British India, On.August 2, 1858, the British Parliamentpassed the Government of India Act, transferring "all lights"that the company had hitherto enjoyed on Indian soil directly to thecrown Most members of Parliament had come to believe that it wasthe cumbersome machinery of a "dual government" at home (theBoard of Control and Court of Proprietors) and the three rusty andoutmoded presidency armies in India that made so tragic a war possibleEloquent defenders of John Company's "innocence," includingits brilliant secretary of correspondence, John Stuart Mill, sought invain to convince their countrymen that it was less the company'santediluvian administration that had caused the conflict than it wasDalhousie's excess of zeal in hurrying India to keep pace with Britain'sown modernization But with so many Britons slaughtered in awar that cost England a full year's worth of Indian revenue ( £ 36 million)to win, whatever its actual causes, some scapegoat had to befound, Moreover, the company had virtually ceased to exercise any butnegative authority, since even its patronage powers had been strippedby the Charter Act of 1853, which introduced a competitive examinationsystem-the gift of the Chinese to world bureaucracy-for appointmentsto the Indian Civil Service,Under the Government of India Act, one of Her Majesty's secretariesof state was vested, through the cabinet, with full power andresponsibility for the government and revenues of India, thus inheritingthe duties of both court and board, The company was left withseven members of the now dissolved court, who were appointed to the

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