The Sepoy Mutiny (Indian Rebellion) of 1857

This Article Includes -

1. Background of the Sepoy Revolt
2. Sepoy Revolt, 1857
3. The Bengal Army
4. Major Incidents of the Sepoy Mutiny
5. Leaders of The Revolt of 1857
6. Principle Clauses
7. Influence of Sepoy Revolt In Bangladesh
8. End of Sepoy Revolt

1. Background of Sepoy Revolt, 1857

Late 1700s and early 1800s

East India Company's army units, whose South Asian recruits were known as sepoys, an Anglo-Indian term derived from the Persian word sipahi (soldier). Sepoys tended to take great pride in their military prowess, and they exhibited enormous loyalty to their British officers.


Year 1830s and 1840s

A number of sepoys began to suspect that the British intended to convert the Indian population to Christianity. Increasing numbers of Christian missionaries began arriving in India, and their presence gave credence to rumors of impending conversions.


Year 1856

British interest in Awadh began in the 1760s, and after 1800 they exercised increasing control there. It was annexed (as Oudh) by the British in 1856, an action that which has been cited as a cause of the Sepoy Mutiny.


Year 1857

The events of 1857 have been considered the first outbreak of an independence movement against British rule which is known as Sepoy Mutiny.


2. Sepoy Revolt, 1857

Sepoy Revolt, 1857 started at Barrackpur under the leadership of Mangal Pandey on 29 March 1857 and soon spread to Meerut, Delhi and other parts of India. It created serious tension throughout Bangladesh. The resistance in Chittagong and Dhaka and skirmishes at Sylhet, Jessore, Rangpur, Pabna and Dinajpur had left Bangladesh in a state of alert and excitement. On 18 November 1857 the Native Infantry of Chittagong rose in open rebellion and released all prisoners from the jail. They seized arms and ammunition, ransacked the treasury, set the Magazine House on fire and proceeded towards Tippera.

The offensive of the sepoys of Chittagong had an important bearing upon the company's defensive posture at Dhaka. Being apprehensive of a further uprising of the sepoys, the authorities sent three companies of the 54th Regiment and one hundred seamen to Dhaka. Simultaneously a Naval Brigade was sent to Jessore, Rangpur, Dinajpur and some other districts of Bangladesh. Organised local volunteers consisting mostly of European residents took special measures for the protection of Dhaka. The situation became tense when the Naval Brigade arrived at Dhaka to disarm the sepoys stationed there. On 22 November the sepoys stationed at lalbagh resisted the process of disarming. 


3. The Bengal Army

Each of the three "Presidencies" into which the East India Company divided India for administrative purposes maintained their own armies. Of these, the Army of the Bengal Presidency was the largest. Unlike the other two, it recruited heavily from among high-caste Hindus and comparatively wealthy Muslims. 

The sepoys were therefore affected to a large degree by the concerns of the landholding and traditional members of the society. In the early years of Company rule, it tolerated and even encouraged the caste privileges and customs within the Bengal Army, which recruited its regular soldiers almost exclusively amongst the landowning Rajputs and Brahmins of the Bihar and Awadh regions. These soldiers were known as Purbiyas.


4. Major Incidents of the Sepoy Mutiny

Meerut and Delhi

In a large military camp (called a cantonment) at Meerut, near Delhi, a number of sepoys refused to use the new rifle cartridges in early May 1857. The British stripped them of their uniforms and put them in chains.
Other sepoys revolted on May 10, 1857, and things quickly became chaotic as mobs attacked British civilians, including women and children.

Mutineers traveled the 40 miles to Delhi and soon the large city erupted in a violent revolt against the British. A number of British civilians in the city were able to flee, but many were slaughtered. And Delhi remained in rebel hands for months.


A particularly horrific incident known as the Cawnpore Massacre occurred when British officers and civilians, leaving the city of Cawnpore (present day Kanpur) under a flag of surrender was attacked.
The British men were killed, and British women and children were taken prisoner. A local leader, Nana Saheb, ordered their death. When sepoys, abiding by their military training, refused to kill the prisoners, butchers were recruited from local bazaars to do the killing. When the British eventually took back Cawnpore and discovered the site of the massacre, it inflamed the troops and led to vicious acts of retribution.

Siege at Lucknow

Siege of Lucknow sustained assault and eventual relief of the British "Residency" (British governmental headquarters) in India’s northern city of Lucknow, part of 1857–1858 Indian Mutiny against British rule. The relief of Lucknow consisted of two attempts by the British to rescue Sir Henry Lawrence and a contingent of British and Indian troops, along with several hundred civilians, from the center of Lucknow where they held out under siege conditions for six months.

The first relief attempt occurred on September 25 when a force under the command of Major General Sir Henry Havelock fought its way across rebel-held territory to Lucknow. However, by the time he reached the Residency, Havelock had lost so many troops that he considered it too risky to attempt to evacuate the civilians. The relief force joined the garrison, improved the defenses, and waited for a second relief.

On November 16, a much larger force approached Lucknow, led by Lieutenant General Sir Colin Campbell. The force stormed the Secundra Bagh, a walled enclosure blocking Campbell’s route to the Residency. By now, the British soldiers had learned of the massacre at Cawnpore, and no mercy was shown to the rebels. The British reached the Residency on November 19 and began evacuations. By November 27, the residents had been removed and relocated to safe locations. Campbell would return in March and recapture Lucknow.


5. Leaders of the Revolt of 1857

Mangal Pandey :

Mangal Pandey was the first soldier to protest. Soon, other soldier revolted. The revolt started in Meerut on 10th May 1857.

Nana Shaeb :

He forced the British garrison in Kanpur to surrender and gained control of Kanpur for a few days. He later disappeared after his forces were defeated by a British force that recaptured Kanpur.

Rani of Jhansi:

She was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and became a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for Indian nationalists. She died in the Rebellion, from wounds received in a battle on 17 June 1858.

Begum Hazrat Mahal:

Begum Hazrat Mahal's band of supporters rebelled against the forces of the British under the leadership of Raja Jalal Singh; they seized control of Lucknow, and she took power as the guardian of her minor son, Prince Birjis Qadr, whom she had declared as the ruler of Awadh.As regent, she automatically came to have a leadership role in the rebellion against the British.

Kunwar Singh :

He was the first warrior after Shivaji to prove the efficacy of the warfare. His tactics left British Puzzled.

Tantia Tope :

Despite lacking formal military training, Tantia Tope is widely considered as the best and most effective rebel general.


6. Causes of the Revolt of 1857

It started with the rumor with the introduction of the Enfield rifle in the army. It was rumoured that that the cartridges used in the rifles has casing coated with fat of cows and pigs which had to be bitten off. This hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims.

The sepoys were forced to work far off without extra Bhatta or payment.

The loss of Awadh only added to the existing tensions between the British and the local populace. The simmering resentment would only boil over as the revolt of 1857, with Awadh being one of the many focal points of the rebellion.

The Hindus and Muslims were forced to take Christianity.

A major cause of resentment that arose ten months prior to the outbreak of the rebellion was the General Service Enlistment Act of 25 July 1856. Men of the Bengal Army had been exempted from overseas service. Specifically, they were enlisted only for service in territories to which they could march.


7. Why did the Sepoy revolt fail?

• The revolt was localized and was poorly planned.
• The British had better resources than rebels
• The leaders lacked military skills.
• The native princes did not join the revolt.

8. End and Legacy of the Sepoy Mutiny

The Sepoy Mutiny continued for five months before it was finally put down by the British and loyal Indian troops in a decisive battle at Jhasi in the winter of 1858. Small units of mutineers continued to harass British for another two years before the mutiny was crushed and order was restored in the countryside. 

The British were merciless in their reprisals. Thousands of mutineers were executed. The last Mughal shah was ousted and sent to exile in Burma for his involvement in the mutiny even though his involvement was minimal.

The Sepoy Mutiny was a major turning point in the history of modern India. In May 1858, the British exiled Emperor Bahadur Shah II (1837-57) to Burma, thus formally liquidating the Mughal Empire. At the same time, they abolished the British East India Company and replaced it with direct rule under the British crown. In proclaiming the new direct-rule policy to "the Princes, Chiefs, and Peoples of India," Queen Victoria (who was given the title Empress of India in 1877) promised equal treatment under British law, but Indian mistrust of British rule had become a legacy of the 1857 rebellion.

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