Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Mutiny—Delhi

After Lord Dalhousie, Lord Canning became Governor General of India. At first, everything seemed quiet. But suddenly there burst over India a most terrible storm.

It was just a hundred years since the Black Hole, just fifty years since the mutiny of Vellore, when a far worse mutiny broke out.

For some time, the sepoys had been restless, and discontented. They had been angry when Oudh was annexed for one thing. Next, Lord Canning wanted some soldiers to send to Burma. Of course, the sepoys would not go. He was so annoyed at what he thought was foolish nonsense that he issued an order, saying that only sepoys, who would agree to go anywhere, would in future be taken into the army. This made them more angry and more afraid, so they again thought that the British were trying to destroy their caste and religion, and thenceforth high caste men would not join the army. All the sepoys even began to be afraid that the new order included them, and that henceforth they would be forced to go across the "black water," and they grew sullen.

They had many other grievances, real or imaginary. Railways and telegraphs frightened them. They thought they were magic and witchcraft, and said that the white people were binding the whole of India in chains. People, who were unfriendly to British rule, tried to make their grievances and fears worse, and tried to stir the sepoys to greater and greater discontent.

About this time a new rifle was sent out to India. The cartridges of his rifle were greased, and the end of the cartridge had to be bitten off before it was used.

One day, in the barracks, a low class workman asked a high caste sepoy for a drink out of his water-bottle. The sepoys refused haughtily, saying that the touch of a low caste lips would make his bottle "unclean." The workman angrily replied that it was no matter, was soon there would be no caste left, as the new cartridges were greased with the fat of cows and pigs, and the sepoys would have to bite them.

This, to a Brahmin, was something horrible, for to him the cow was sacred, while the pig was "unclean." The mere thought that he would have to touch this terrible mixture with his lips was more than he could bear. He ran off with the tale to his fellows, in horror. The story passed from mouth to mouth, till it spread all over India.

The officers told the men that the grease was mutton, fat, and wax, and therefore could not hurt any caste. It was in vain. The tale had taken hold too strongly. And now that one wild story was believed, others followed. It was said that is very flour of which the sepoys' bread was made, was mixed with cows' bones, ground to dust. To eat this, even unknowingly, would be deadly sin. Forever afterwards, they, who did so, would be outcasts. And so bent with the Sahibs on the destruction of all caste that they stooped to such foul and secret means. The story, of course, was not true, but the sepoys believed it.

They grew sullen with anger. They were wild with fear too, such a fear as it is hard for us to understand. The area was full of mutterings and unrest. In regiment after regiment the hated cartridges were refused. In some places the officers called the mean and offer them in the old cartridges which they had used for years. But fear had become unreasoning panic, and even they were refused. At length, at Meerut, near Delhi, the storm burst.

One on Sunday evening in May, when all the white people were on their way to church, there was an unusual stir. Trumpet calls were heard, mixed with the clatter of firearms and the rush of feet. Then flames burst forth in all directions. Soon the truth became known. The sepoys had revolted. They had fired upon their officers, and as the sun went down they rushed forth madly thirsting for the blood of their white masters.

A night of horror followed. The prisoners were burst open; from the dark and secret places of the town thieves, and murderers, and all evildoers crept out and mingled with the maddened sepoys. They attacked the British in their houses, slaying without mercy. They robbed and plundered at will. All night the sky was red with flames from burning houses, and amid the roar and crackle might be heard shrieks and groans, mingled with savage yells, and the wild clash of cymbals and beat of drum. But when the day dawned the streets were silent. Among the blackened, smouldering ruins the dead lay still. But the murderers had fled.

Along the road to Delhi, through the coolness of early dawn, beneath the glimmer of the rising sun spread the frantic sepoys. Mile after mile, from the ribbon of white road, rose a cloud of dust, marking the path by which the dark-faced, turbanned crowd passed.

By eight o'clock the foremost of the rioters burst into the quiet streets of Delhi. There the ancient King, the last descendant of the Great Mogul, still lived in empty splendour. Long ago his empire had passed into the hands of the British, but yet he kept great court and state, and played at grandeur.

Around his pal at the he wild horde raged, crying that they had killed the British at Meerut, that they had come to fight for the faith. "Help, O King," they cried. "We pray thee for help in our fight for the faith."

Into the palace they forced their way, slaying every white-faced man or woman. Soon the streets of Delhi were is terrible as those of Meerut. Every house belonging to the British was attacked, plundered, and set on fire. Every European was slain without mercy.

There were no British soldiers in Delhi, so to resist was hopeless. The British officers of the sepoy troops succeeded in blowing up the powder magazine, so that the ammunition should not fall into the hands of the mutineers. But that was all that they could do. Then they made their escape, as best they could, with their wives and children into the jungle. There, new dangers and sufferings awaited them, and but few found shelter in distant villages. Soon not a Christian was left within the walls of Delhi, and it was entirely in the hand of the mutineers.

All over India the terrible news was flashed, and in town after town the revolt broke out. Everywhere it was the same story—a story of murder and bloodshed, of robbery and plunder and destruction. Then, after finishing their terrible work, many of the rioters flock to Delhi, to arrange themselves under the banner of the "King."

There were very few British soldiers in India, for the Company had begun to trust almost entirely to the sepoys. Now Lord Canning telegraphed in all directions for troops. Some he gathered from Persia where there had been fighting. Some he stopped on their way to China. The Sikhs and Gurkhas, too, had stood firm, and now they loyally fought for their white masters. Soon the siege of Delhi began. The mutineers held out for three months, but at last they yielded to British guns. The old Mogul was taken prisoner and sent to Rangoon where he died. But meanwhile, all over Northern India there was war and bloodshed.

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