Kaye, John; George Bruce Malleson (ed.);
Kaye's and Malleson's History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8, v.3 fulltext
Cambridge University Press, 1888, 482 pages
ISBN 1108023231, 9781108023238
topics: | history | india | mutiny | british
This "magisterial" history of the mutiny is the official version of events, with a host of well-backed up facts and analyses, and it remains among the most consulted works on the mutiny.
[Most texts on the mutiny talk of the rumours about the paper cartridges. e.g. here is a typical narrative from Barbara and Thomas Metcalf, A concise history of modern India, 2006: soldiers [were required] to bite off the end of each cartridge – widely reputed to have been greased with pig or cow fat, polluting to both Hindus and Muslims. even postcolonial historians, such as Biswamoy Pati in his introduction to The 1857 Rebellion: Debates in Indian History, writing a century and half later, follow the well-trodden ambiguity: [the bullet] required to be bitten before loading. Rumours that the grease used on the bullets was from the fat of cattle or pigs... created strong animosities. But were these rumours founded on fact? What surprises me is that despite strong moral incentives to prove the story false, generations of British historians dithered on the matter, and left the rumours without delving into it further. Even Rudrangshu Mukherjee in an appendix to Mangal Pandey, admits that while the cartridges were greased with tallow, the composition of this tallow was never clearly specified. Thus the mainline story is that the bullets with animal grease had not been deployed yet; thus the animosity was based on "rumours" which has a ring of possibly being untrue. Yet, no colonial text directly refutes the rumour as being "false". This makes the reader suspect that there may have been considerable truth behind the rumours. Indeed, looking up Kaye and Malleson, we find the narrative quite clear, that animal grease bullets were being manufactured in India with the intent of being supplied to the troops. Had they been actually supplied? Not in Bengal, but they may have been given to native troops in the enfield training at the Meerut musketry station, but again this is neither quite verified, but certainly not strongly denied.
In 1853, the authorities in England sent out to India some boxes of greased cartridges. The lubricating material was of different kinds; but tallow entered largely into the composition of it all. It was sent out, not for service, but for experiment, in order that the effect of the climate upon the cartridges thus greased might be ascertained. But it did not wholly escape our high military functionaries in India, that these greased cartridges, if care were not taken to exclude all obnoxious materials from their composition, could not be served out to Native troops without risk of serious danger. In December 1853, Colonel Henry Tucker, Adjutant-General of the Bengal Army, addressed a letter to the Secretary to the Military Board on the subject of these experiments, adding, I am at the same time to communicate the Commander-in-Chief’s opinion, that, unless it be known that the grease employed in these cartridges is not of a nature to offend or interfere with the prejudices of caste, it will be expedient not to issue them for test to Native corps, but to European soldiers only to be carried in pouch. But this letter did not result in any orders for any change from the Military Board.  [FN 215. Colonel Tucker afterwards said in a public journal, "I do not presume to say with whom specifically the blame of this most culpable neglect may rest. Only investigation can settle that point; but I conceive that either the Military Secretary, or the officer presiding in chief over the Ordnance Department in Calcutta, is, one or both, the party implicated." Investigation proves that both officers were blameless. The routine in those days was for the Commander-in-Chief to address the Military Board, and for the Military Board to address the Governor-General. In this case, however, the correspondence never went further than the Military Board; and it was not until after the Mutiny had broken out, and Colonel (then Major-General) Tucker had publicly referred to his neglected warnings, that the Military Secretary had any knowledge of the correspondence of 1853. The mixture of wax and oil, though it answered the purpose of lubrication at the time of use, was not applicable to bundled cartridges, because its greasing properties soon disappeared. So the cartridges manufactured for the Enfield rifles were to be smeared with a mixture of stearine and tallow. The Ordnance Department then indented for tallow, without any specification of the nature of the animal fat composing it ; and, although no hog’s-lard was supplied, there is no question that some beef-fat was used in the composition of the tallow. [FN 216] It was a part of a contract for "Petty Stores," to be supplied to the Arsenal of Fort William for two years, from the 15th of August, 1856, entered into by Gangadarh Banerji and Co. The article is described in the contract as "Grease, Tallow;" and it was to be supplied at the rate of two annas (or threepence) a pound. From the Records of the Inspector-General’s office, it appears that after the contract, dated 1611- of August, 1856, was concluded, Grease and Tallow were indented for separately at various times. In an indent on the Contractor, dated September, 1856, the following entries appear: Grease – For ammunition purposes. Tallow of the purest kind – For greasing composition for Minié rifle ammunition. In subsequent indents the article is sometimes called "Grease," and sometimes "Tallow" – "Required for Arsenal purposes." A circular was issued to the Department, dated January 29th, 1857, directing that, when applying tallow to articles which Native soldiers are required to handle, only the tallow of sheep or goats is to be employed, that of swine or cows being most carefully excluded. However, the stores received since August 1856, were clearly of unspecified tallow, which would imply that pork and beef lard, which was what was used in England, and which was presumably far cheaper than goat lard, would be used.
J. A. B. Palmer, in his The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857 (1966) is not happy with the Kaye/Malleson analysis: The reader of Kaye can see that even he, with all the facilities at his disposal, was compelled to fashion an account out of ... unsatisfactory material, supplemented by some personal enquiries from officers who should have known what they were talking about. We are in no better case today. Palmer gives some details on the early deployment of the cartridges in India: A consignment of this ammunition was sent out to India in 1853 to test its keeping qualities (not for firing purposes): the grease made at Enfield was composed of tallow from beef and pork fat. Cartridges from this consignment were handled by sepoys, by keeping them in pouch in the course of the test, its composition did not become known to them. The grease was found to stand up to the Indian climate and the consignment was returned to England in 1855 with a report that it had survived the test. p.11 the phrase "the composition did not become known to them", seems to me, is unlikely to be based on native primary evidence. Later, it would seem likely that the troops at Meerut had indeed experienced the cartridge: The Indian military authorities obtained enough [Enfield rifles] for use in training at the Musketry Depots at DumDum, Ambala and Sialkot. From the latter part of 1856 or early in 1857, detachments of five men at a time from native infantry regiments began to pass through these depots for training in the new weapon. ... The parties under instruction at that stage only learnt the mechanism and care of the weapon covered by the Manual Exercise: they did not proceed to the firing motions in the Platoon Exercise and so, at first, they did not handle, and still less were they called on to fire,the cartridges. The cartridges were used at Ambala for the first time on 17 April; they were issued greased and the men greased them with a composition of clarified butter. p.14 This last data is from the testimony of one Captain Martineau's at the Trial of the Bahadur Shah. It is contradicted by the objection of Adjutant General Colonel Chester, who was at Meerut, and claimed that mutton fat was already in use: Eventually on 27 January Government gave orders that the men at all the instruction depots were to be allowed to grease their own cartridges. ... Colonel Chester, at Meerut, telegraphed back on the 28th, referring to the previous use of cartridges greased with mutton fat and questioning the expediency of the new order because it might throw suspicion on the fat in use for some years past. Government replied on the 29th that the existing practice might continue, if the materials were mutton fat and wax. p. 16
Heather Streets, in an otherwise balanced narrative, discusses the how British officers would often take other more remunative jobs, and how the European-Indian divide led to a complete break in communications, so that the British were completely out of touch with their troops. She has this to say about the cartridges: The final straw came in late 1856 when it was rumored that the cartridges for the new Enfield muzzle-loading rifles being issued to the East India Company Army were greased with the fat of pork and beef. ... it seemed to many that the British were deliberately and openly trying to make both Hindu and Muslim soldiers lose their religion. Upon investigation, Company administrators discovered that tallow or lard had in fact been used to lubricate the cartridges, and it was suspected that animal fat from pigs or cows had been included in the mixture. The mistake was inadvertent, but was an illustration of just how out of touch were the rulers from the ruled. The British military administration moved quickly to correct the blunder by allowing the cartridge to be torn with the hands, and by allowing the men to grease their own cartridges with ghee, but in Bengal it was of little use. Many regiments refused the cartridges, and when eighty-five men from the 3rd Native Cavalry in Mirath (Meerut) were publicly degraded and imprisoned for refusing orders to use them, the next day— May 10, 1857—the whole regiment mutinied in protest and killed their British commanders. - H. Streets, The Rebellion of 1857: Origins, Consequences, and Themes
The discourse is presented with many equivocations. In "Lard had in fact been used", it seems quite clear that beef/pork fat grease had been used. But in the next sentence we find that animal fat use was only "suspected". This weasels out of the culpability of the "fact" presented earlier. I am not sure why the word "suspected" is used; perhaps it appears in some official communique. But as a historian, on what basis would Streets expect the reader to "suspect" it? In the subasequent sentence, we learn that the "mistake was inadvertent". Why does this have to be explicated? Next we learn that the "administration moved quickly to correct the blunder". But did it really, given that it had been sitting on the letter from its own Adjutant General, Colonel Henry Tucker, written in 1853? In general, I respect Streets and her writings - in fact, a good deal of American writing on the mutiny takes a rather balanced view of the events. So I was rather astonished when I encountered the unnecessarily apologist tone in the passage above. Had Muslim rulers in a country imposed such rules on a Christian population, would the language have been less kind?
Clearly, between August 1856 and end January 1857, all enfield cartridges made by military stores in India were greased with beef or pork tallow. But had the native troops been issued such bullets? On this question the answer is more qualified, but still affirmative. Here, we hear a lot about the 1853 pouch usage, where it was not used, hence not bitten. Regarding the numerous infantry who were being trained on the Enfield by the end of 1856, we hear far less. What we have are officers such as Colonel Chester who says that he believed it was "mutton fat" in the cartridges that the soldiers were issued in Meerut. In the texts that report this claim, we find no further scrutiny of this belief. Again, it is unbelievable that no one attempted to establish this claim. Hence one can only conclude that the claim was investigated, and no substantive evidence was found, and hence it is everywhere simply reported verbatim. More than anything else, given the great incentive any british official would have had to show an alternative - e.g. that sheep/ goat tallow was being used, say, or that the soldiers were lubricating it themselves with ghee - it is quite unbelievable that such practices actually existed but no one spoke of it. At the same time, the order that sepoys could use their preferred lubricant was not issued on 27 January 1857. However, most likely it was not implemented, for on March 5, we have Major Bontein of Dum-Dum suggesting a change in the drill exercise in which the bullets would be torn by the hand, and there was no need to bite it. While this suggestion was being considered, the Commander-in-Chief George Anson issued an order on March 23 that firing practice be suspended temporarily. Clearly even at this point, the matter of the grease had not been settled. Eventually, in early April (Palmer can't find the exact date of the order), we find in the Government's report to the Court of Directors, No. 115, dt. 8 April 1857 (the day Mangal Pandey was hanged), that Brontein's suggestion has been accepted by the Government. The Platoon exercise was revised as follows: old instructions: Load 1st—Bring the cartridge to the mouth, holding it between the forefinger and the thumb with the ball in the hand, and bite off the top; elbow close to the body. new: Load 1st—Bring the cartridge to the left hand, bullet resting on the palm of the right, right elbow slightly raised, tear off the top of the cartridge by the action of dropping the elbow. [p.16] Thus, we find no evidence of any mechanism whereby the cartridges at the time of the training could have been made from anything but beef or pork tallow. Prima facie, therefore, we must conclude that the several hundred native soldiers trained at Meerut from late 1856 were almost certainly issued bullets with beef or pork grease. The unlikeliness of the claim of tallow made from mutton was apparent to fiction authors as well. The historical novel The Temple of Ill Omens by James R. Baehler (2007) has a British officer saying: I have been assured that the grease is sheep tallow but I have some reservations about that. However, history texts, riding on the colonial historiography, continue to use the word "rumours". But I see no reason for modern historians to keep repeating the language of "rumours" which equivocates and makes it appear untrue. Why not say up front that "the news that cartridges with beef were to be issued started to spread".
From a historiographic viewpoint, the interlocutors who gave evidence on this matter would clearly have considerable hesitancy to admit of beef grease being actually used. This would have admitted an administrative lapse (although as Malleson puts it in a footnote above, it is more systemic than individual). This would certainly justify thinking of a tallow of unknown provenance as mutton fat rather than beef. The commanding officer at Meerut, Colonel Carmichael-Smyth, was warned of the coming storm - but it was late at night and after the orders for the skirmish had already been issued. What is interesting is how the wording of these warnings, which are very urgent, are watered down in later testimony; clearly there were reasons for the primary interlocutors in this process to try to assuage their complicity in this entire act. Thus, given the evidence we have from Kaye and Palmer, it seems clear than Indian soldiers had actually been issued greased cartridges. Their officers may have believed these to be mutton fat, but that is neither here nor there - given the composition of the infantry with Oudh and Bihari brahmins, under a deliberate casteist induction policy, mutton is almost as problematic. But the evidence, further, is that there were no mutton fat cartridges being manufactured - the only tallow documented as being supplied was beef. However, even modern histories, continue to dish out the ambiguous "rumour" tale. the facts presented above have been widely known for 150 years now (ever since Kaye). it is time to end the language of "rumours" - clearly, it would be justified to take a position such as: The bullets, which had heretofore been made with beef or pork fat, required to be bitten before loading. Between August 1856 and until March 1857, all bullets manufactured in Calcutta as well as those imported from England were greased with pork/beef fat. Some of these bullets were most probably used in rifle training facilities in Meerut and Ambala. Certainly, the sepoys were not misguided in believing that the cartridges for the Enfield that they were to be issued contained beef or pork fat. As this became more widely known, it resulted in their widespread refusal to handle the enfield. Given this justified belief, undercurrents of religious animosity - that the British were aiming to undermine the brahmin sepoys social standing and thereby ultimately convert them to Christianity, were also very quick to spread. Now, this was clearly a "rumour", but there is little evidence to suggest that the greased cartridge was one too.