The military authorities at Meerut seem to have been under a spell.
Continuing The Sepoy Mutiny,
our selection from Short History of India and the Frontier States of Afghanistan, Nipal, and Burma by J. Talboys Wheeler published in 1884. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Sepoy Mutiny.
For a brief interval, it was hoped that the disaffection was suppressed. Excitement manifested itself in various ways at different stations throughout the length of Hindustan and the Punjab — at Benares, Lucknow, Agra, Ambala, and Sealkote. In some stations, there were incendiary fires; in others, the sepoys were wanting in their usual respect to their European officers. But it was believed that the storm was spending itself, and that the dark clouds were passing away.
Suddenly on May 3d there was an explosion at Lucknow. A regiment of Oudh Irregular Infantry, previously in the service of the Mogul, broke out in mutiny and began to threaten their European officers. Sir Henry Lawrence, the new Chief Commissioner, had a European regiment at his disposal, namely the Thirty-Second Foot. That same evening, he ordered out the regiment, and a battery of eight guns manned by Europeans, together with four sepoy regiments, three of infantry and one of cavalry. With this force, he proceeded to the lines of the mutineers, about seven miles off. The Oudh Irregulars were taken by surprise; they saw infantry and cavalry on either side, and the European guns in front. They were ordered to lay down their arms, and they obeyed. At this moment, the artillery lighted their port fires. The mutineers were seized with a panic, and rushed away in the darkness; but the leaders and most of their followers were pursued and arrested by the native infantry and cavalry, and confined pending trial. Subsequently it transpired that the native regiments sympathized with the mutineers, and would have shown it but for their dread of Sir Henry Lawrence and the Europeans. The energetic action of Lawrence sufficed to maintain order for another month in Oudh. Meanwhile the Thirty-Fourth Native Infantry was disbanded at Barrackpur, and again it was hoped that the disaffection was stayed.
The demon of mutiny was only scotched. Within a week of the outbreak at Lucknow, the great military station of Meerut was in a blaze. Meerut was only forty miles from Delhi, and the largest cantonment in India. There were three regiments of sepoys, two of infantry and one of cavalry; but there were enough Europeans to scatter four times the number; namely, a battalion of the Sixtieth Rifles, a regiment of Dragoon Guards known as the “Carabineers,” two troops of horse-artillery, and a light field-battery.
In spite of the presence of Europeans there were more indications of excitement at Meerut than at any other station in the northwest. At Meerut, the story of the greased cartridges had been capped by the story of the bonedust; and there were the same kind of incendiary fires, the same lack of respect toward European officers, and the same whispered resolve not to touch the cartridges, as at Barrackpur. The station was commanded by General Hewitt, whose advancing years unfitted him to cope with the storm which was bursting upon Hindustan.
The regiment of sepoy cavalry at Meerut was strongly suspected of disaffection; accordingly, it was resolved to put the men to the test. On May 6th, it was paraded in the presence of the European force, and cartridges were served out; not the greased abominations from Calcutta, but the old ones which had been used times innumerable by the sepoys and their fathers.
But the men were terrified and obstinate, and eighty-five stood out and refused to take the cartridges. The offenders were at once arrested, and tried by a court-martial of native officers; they were found guilty, and sentenced to various periods of imprisonment, but recommended for mercy. General Hewitt saw no grounds for mercy, excepting in the case of eleven young troopers; and on Saturday, May 9th, the sentences were carried out. The men were brought on parade, stripped of their uniforms, and loaded with irons. They implored the General for mercy, and, finding it hopeless, began to reproach their comrades; but no one dared to strike a blow in the presence of loaded cannon and rifles. At last the prisoners were carried off and placed in a jail, not under European soldiers, but a native guard.
The military authorities at Meerut seem to have been under a spell. The next day was Sunday, May 10th, and the hot sun rose with its usual glare in the Indian sky. The European barracks were at a considerable distance from the native lines, and the intervening space was covered with shops and houses surrounded by trees and gardens. Consequently, the Europeans in the barracks knew nothing of what was going on in the native quarter. Meanwhile there were commotions in the sepoy lines and neighboring bazaars. The sepoys were taunted by the loose women of the place with permitting their comrades to be imprisoned and fettered. At the same time, they were smitten with a mad fear that the European soldiers were to be let loose upon them. The Europeans at Meerut saw and heard nothing.
Nothing was noted on that Sunday morning except the absence of native servants from many of the houses, and that was supposed to be accidental. Morning service was followed by the midday heats, and at five o’clock in the afternoon the Europeans were again preparing for church. Suddenly there was an alarm of fire, followed by a volley of musketry, discordant yells, the clattering of cavalry, and the bugle sounding an alarm. The sepoys had worked themselves up to a frenzy of excitement; the prisoners were released with a host of jailbirds; the native infantry joined the native cavalry, and the colonel of one of the regiments was shot by the sepoys of the other. Inspired by a wild fear and fury, the sepoys ran about murdering or wounding every European they met, and setting houses on fire, amid deafening shouts and uproar.
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