The Indian Mutiny
NGLAND was resting and recovering from her losses in the Crimea. She was just going to keep her hundredth anniversary
of Plassey, when, like a "thundercrash from a cloudless sky," came the news of a mutiny in India, destined to
shake British authority in the Far East to its very foundations. When the mutiny broke out—in May
1857—no one in England realised the discontent, that was growing among the
Matters reached a climax at last. Hitherto the native soldiers, known as sepoys, had used a musket popularly called "Brown Bess." In 1857 Enfield rifles were substituted, with greased cartridges. The news spread, that these new cartridges were greased with hog's lard, and it was forbidden for Mohammedans to touch the fat of swine. A panic of religious fear ran from regiment to regiment, from village to village, town to town.
Early in May, a regiment near Delhi refused to bite the new cartridge. The men were tried, and eighty sepoys sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. The following Sunday, when the English were at church, the prison was broken open and the mutinous sepoys were set free by their companions. Then all took up arms, fired on their officers, and marched forth in battle array for Delhi. Here they proclaimed a descendant of the Great Mogul, Emperor of India. Europeans were massacred, and Delhi was in the hands of the mutineers, who held it till the end of September.
Meanwhile mutiny was breaking out in other parts of northern India. At Cawnpore there were some thousand Europeans, of whom more than half were women and children. Under the command of Sir Hugh Wheeler, an old man of seventy, hasty entrenchments were thrown up, and for three weeks, the few defenders held out gallantly against the mutineers, led by the infamous Nana Sahib.
On promise of a
Hearing that General Havelock and an English army were on their way to Cawnpore, Nana Sahib gave orders for an
instant massacre of the helpless women and children, who, dead and dying, were cast into a well, the site of
which is marked
Meanwhile at Lucknow, some forty miles distant, a strong man, Sir Henry Lawrence, was coping with the coming rebellion. For the defence of the Europeans, he chose a large building, known as the Residency. With unremitting toil, he laid in stores of grain, powder, and arms, while the defences were strengthened by night and day.
It was sunset time, on the last day of June, when a large body of rebels dashed over the bridge and swarmed
into the city of Lucknow. All the Europeans withdrew into the Residency. The blaze of
"Sir Henry, are you hurt?" cried a friend, who was with him.
There was silence for a time. Then in a firm voice came the answer—"I am killed."
He was right: the wound was fatal. With his dying breath, he planned for the defence of the Residency, for the safety of his countrymen, now in such peril and distress.
"Never give up, I charge you. Let every man die at his post."
Speaking to himself, rather than to those around him, he murmured: "Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do
his duty," words, which may be seen on his tombstone
Lawrence had calculated, that Havelock and his relieving army, might arrive in another fifteen days. But a
fortnight after his death, they had only just reached Cawnpore. No easy task had been allotted to Havelock.
Already he had marched
"I shall join you with reinforcements," he said; "but to you shall be left the glory of relieving Lucknow, for which you have already struggled so hard."
Such an act of
The relieving army now started at once, Havelock at the head, Outram a volunteer in the army. On September 25, they reached Lucknow. It was the eighty-seventh day of the siege. With feelings of joy, they detected the tattered English banner still waving from the roof of the Residency, showing that British hearts still beat within, and they were not too late to save the garrison. Hour after hour they fought the rebel host, till at last they gained the narrow streets leading to the Residency, and in the dusk of that September evening, a deafening shout at last greeted them, as they grasped the hands of their comrades after their brilliant defence.
Lawrence had bade them hold the Residency for fifteen days.
"Hold it for fifteen days? We have held it for eighty-seven!" they might well have cried, in the words of the poet Tennyson.
Meanwhile desperate were the doings at Delhi. The siege, begun on
"If there is a desperate deed to be done in India, John Nicholson is the man to do it." Such was the popular idea among men, who knew the power of this famous brigadier.
The "desperate deed" was truly at hand: Delhi must be stormed. And to John Nicholson was entrusted the post of
honour and danger. He—"the Lion of the Punjab"—lead the storming columns, against the defences of
the city. Four columns were to assault four of the gates leading into Delhi at the same time, Nicholson himself
leading the first column. At first all went well. But after a time, the enemy's fire became so appalling, that
the men could not steel their hearts to follow their dauntless leader any further. In vain he strove to nerve
them for the last fatal rush onwards; officers and men were falling every moment. At last Nicholson himself
strode forward. He turned to his men, and waving his sword above his head, pointed to the foe in front,
entreating them to advance. His tall and stately figure, standing alone and unprotected, was an easy mark. In
another moment he had fallen, shot through the chest. He was carried from the action, a dying man. He lived
just long enough to hear that Delhi was taken, after five days' heavy
With the advent of Sir Colin Campbell, as Commander-