book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

The Indian Mutiny 1857-58

Gregory Fremont- Barnes

Barnes, Gregory Fremont-;

The Indian Mutiny 1857-58

Osprey Publishing, 2007, 96 pages

ISBN 1846032091 9781846032097

topics: |  history | british-india | mutiny

Review: A colonial history from the 21st century

This well-illustrated text, intended for the younger reader, perpetuates many a myth from the colonial histories. Though it was published in 2007, it persists in presenting a sensationalist colonial history of events in 1857. All modern historiography highlighting the general disaffection with British rule is ignored. It was a military mutiny and broader causes of discontent are ignored. The social causes discussed as early as in Kaye/Malleson (1888) are not mentioned, and modern views of many subaltern authors (Guha, Stokes, Mukherjee), or other historians such as Paxton, Metcalf or Streets is not reflected.

British children encountering the book in their school libraries will learn colonial positions long past their "use-by" date, e.g.:

	"support for the mutineers was largely confined to the cities; whole
	swathes of the countryside remained either passive or supportive of
	attempts to restore British rule." p.21

this particular fact, long-harped by british colonial histories of the
mutiny, finds little support from historians even at that time.   Here is 
how a recent text on Indian history describes it (Metcalf 2001) : 
	In the recently annexed province of Oudh, the revolt... took on the
    	shape of a ‘popular’ movement, with all classes fighting on behalf of
    	their sepoy kinsmen and deposed king Wajid Ali Shah.  Most prominent
    	among the revolt’s supporters were the taluqdari landlords, aggrieved
    	by the loss of villages during the 1856 land settlement, who, from
    	the security of their mud forts, rallied their followers, kinsmen,
    	and tenants.  Although many among the peasantry had won title to
    	their lands in 1856, to the dismay of the British they threw in their
    	lot with their former landlords...
	- Metcalf and Metcalf, A concise history of modern India, 2001/2006.

further, the child reading about the mutiny will discover how at the sati
chaura ghat (also known as "massacre ghat"), Nana Sahib "treacherously
violates" the safe-passage agreement (p.11).  the british repeatedly pass
resolutions for clemency to the rebels not convicted of murder.  all these
are tropes of the colonial history of the mutiny...

The account is rather disbalanced - there is no mention of the
freewheeling groups that shot and hung indians, whose deaths are thought to
number in several millions, as against the two-thousand british men and
officers killed.

although Fremont-Barnes cites Rudrangshu Mukherjee's Awadh in revolt,
(1998) the conclusions of that text (and many other postcolonial histories)
are ignored in favour of earlier colonial views.

The beef / pork fat "rumour"

Another aspect is how the mutiny was triggered by the gun grease "rumour",
leaving and impression that the rumour was unfounded.  Kaye/Malleson report
that hundreds of rounds of ammunition with pork and beef grease had been
imported from Britain.  

The Osprey text, prefaces this possibility with an exculpatory sentence: 

	While no conspiracy existed on the part of British authorities to
	subvert the troops' religion, in all likelihood the grease did
	contain animal fat, for the regulations concerning the manufacture of
	the cartridges did not stipulate the type to be used, and contractors
	would naturally be inclined to use the least expensive variety,
	tallow, which was based on animal fat.  The new cartridges were, in
	fact, never issued to the troops, and after some consideration that
	sepoys should be allowed to grease their own cartridges with a
	substance of their choice, the Government directed that the grease
	used should be prepared only from mutton fat and wax. p.28

In fact, Kaye records a purchase order issued August 1856 at Fort William,
Calcutta, for ammunition grease made from beef/pork fat (tallow).  The
order was placed with the firm of Gangadarh Banerji and Co, and the item is
described as "Grease, Tallow", "Tallow of the purest kind – For greasing
composition for Minié rifle ammunition."  Thus there was clear evidence of
such greased cartridges being manufactured in India for almost a year
before the mutiny.

Bullets were issued to Indian troops in Meerut, Ambala, and Barrackpore
starting mid-1856. Disaffection regarding the greased bullets had spread by
January 1857, leading to a minor revolt in Barrackpore.  The order for
using mutton fat on the cartridges was issued in May, 1857, four months
after the initial revolt in Barrackpore.  By May, the large-scale rebellion
had broken out in Meerut.

The text appears to bend over backwards to highlight the lack of
culpability of the British:

	... the damaging rumour had spread.  The absence of any evidence of
	malice or conspiracy on the part of the British - who largely viewed
	this as a trivial issue - is an irrelevance: the sepoys' existing
	suspicions of a plot to enforce Christianity upon them
	remained. Their greatest fears now realized, it was only a matter of
	time before discontent bubbled over into outright violence.

Many parts of the text are notable for this kind of language, which seems
to be working hard to ensure the British are not being accused of any

reading parts of the text one wonders almost if this popular Osprey text is
a reprint of something written in the 1890s.


In February 1856 the Company annexed the badly governed and corrupt kingdom
of Oudh (now Uttar Pradesh); Oudh stretched across a large area of northern
India containing a predominantly Hindu population, ruled by the last
independent Muslim dynasty in India.  The annexation played a crucial part in
the disaffection of the Bengal Army: perhaps as many as 75,000 of whose
troops came from Oudh. Many inhabitants regarded the annexation as an
illegitimate political act by which their nawab, Wajid Ali, was deposed and
the army of 60,000 men disbanded after the payment of token gratuities.
p. 25. 

Caption: "Indian prince posing."

[The text is copiously illustrated.  Many of the images of Indians are
notable for their sinister tone. ]

caption: Nana Sahib and his escort. An heir to the Maratha kingdom, but
dispossessed and receiving a pension from the East India Company, Nana
Sahib accepted the rebels' invitation to take command of their forces in
and around Cawnpore.

[The book also has many errors.  Nana Sahib was not receiving a pension,
and had petitioned the Company repeatedly in this regard.  In fact, this
was one of his main grievances against the British. ]

Amy Horne: Captured by a sowar

[Amy Horne was the 18-year-old step-daughter of a postal worker.  After the
killings at the Sati Chaura ghat, she was] one of the few survivors not
brought back into the town with the others.  Dragged to the shore by a
trooper of the 3rd Bengal Cavalry, she was taken to a hut and given Indian
dress which, with her tanned face, enabled her to appear in public without
causing notice. Some days later she underwent a ceremony of ritual
purification in which she was forcibly converted to Islam (though she never
actually foreswore Christianity). After several days she was taken with the
rebel army towards Allahabad, in the capacity of a guide - for she knew the
route - and was almost rescued by British troops who routed the mutineer
column in the course of its march.  Eventually she was taken to Lucknow,
even while the Residency was under siege, and held prisoner until the
appearance of a British relief force in the city forced her captor to f1ee
to his home village on the outskirts of Allahabad, where Horne was
released. She eventually settled near Calcutta, married a railway engineer,
and lived the rest of her life in India as Amelia Bennett.

Amy Horne was the subject of much sensational writing in the British media.
She published a memorirs with her first hand account nearly five decades
later, in 1913.  This narrative has long been challenged as having been
coloured by the sensational histories of Cawnpore written over the
preceding decades.

Long excerpts from Amy Horne's narrative about events in the Wheeler's
entrenchment and the subsequent massacre.

	a signal was given from the shore and they all leaped into the water
	and waded to the bank, after having first secreted burning charcoal
	in the thatch ofmost ofthe boats. Immediately a volley of bullets
	assailed us, followed by a hail of shot and grape which struck the

Regarding the firing at Sati Chaura ghat.  Another survivor, Mowbray
Thompson, records in his diary of 1859:  

    at a signal from the shore, the native boatmen, who numbered eight and
    a coxswain to each boat, all jumped over and waded to the shore.  We fired
    into them immediately, but the majority of them escaped...
		([Thomson, Story of Cawnpore, 1859, p.166 ])

this seems to be saying that there was no firing until the Britishers
opened fire on the boatsmen.  The river was low - it was June - just month
before the monsoons, and the boats were mired in mud and could not be
easily launched.  This may have exacerbated tensions among the already
tense Britishers.  Once they started the firing, it might have caused a
return of fire from indian soldiers lining the shore.  The british
soldiers, given their exposed positions on the boats, would then have
been killed.  

But in the the minds of the reader of this outdated text, no such doubts
would arise regarding this "treacherous" massacre.

Indeed, narratives such as Amy Horne/Amelia Bennett's are now largely
discredited. Modern historians such as Gautam Chakravarty and Rudrangshu
Mukherjee have attempted to show that such late recollections were
coloured, often severely, by other narratives that had preceded it.

    On the other hand, memoirs written some time after the rebellion often
    expect corroboration or seek more information from historiography, as
    with Amelia Bennett who, writing in 1913 of her experience at Kanpur in
    May 1857, pauses to observe of the Nana Sahib: ‘what a record of
    sensuality, ferocity, cunning, treachery, and inhumanity did his
    subsequent acts unfold, as handed down to us by history’.
		-  The Indian mutiny and the British imagination p.127

The reader of this text, however, would be left in the dark...


Introduction 							       7
Chronology 							       11
Historical origins: Background to war 			       14
Opposing forces: Warring sides 				       20
Unredressed grievances: Outbreak 				       25
War without mercy: The fighting 				       30
Brevet-Major O.H.S.G. Anson, 9th Lancers: Portrait of a soldier      68
Amy Horne and the massacre at Cawnpore: Portrait of a civilian       74
The final campaigns, January-December 1858: How the war ended        77
The effects of the Mutiny on the Raj: The world around war 	       82
Why the Mutiny failed; British post-war reforms:
		Conclusion and consequences 			       86
Further reading 						       91
Index 							       94



January Rumour begins at the Dum-Dum musketry depot, near Calcutta, that
     British military authorities have deliberately greased the new Enfield
     rifle cartridges with the fat of pigs and cows
26 February Sepoys of the 19th Native Infantry at Berhampore in Bengal
     refuse rifle practice, notwithstanding their being issued with
     ungreased cartridges
29 February Barrackpore, in Bengal, Mungal Pandy, a sepoy of the 34th Native
     Infantry, wounds two British officers during an unsuccessful attempt to
     incite his unit to mutiny
31 March 19th Native Infantry disbanded at Barrackpore for the mutinous
     behaviour of 26 February
8 April Mungal Pandy hanged at Barrackpore

Entrance to Barrackpore House - one of the official residences of Lord Canning

24 April Eighty-five troopers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry at Meerut
     refuse orders to fire greased cartridges
6 May Part of the 34th Native Infantry disbanded at Barrackpore for their
     disobedience on 29 March
8 May Troops of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry found guilty by court-martial
     and given severe sentences
9 May In Meerut, convicted prisoners chained in the presence of the entire
     command and imprisoned
10 May Native troops revolt at Meerut, massacre the British cantonment, and
     march on Delhi
11 May Mutineers arrive at Delhi from Meerut, combine forces with local
     garrison and murder Europeans and Indian Christians
13 May Bahadur Shah II proclaimed new Mughal emperor. British disarm the
     native garrison at Lahore, in the Punjab
17 May Delhi Field Force, under General George Anson, Commander-inChief of
     India, advances from Umballa
20-23 May Part of the 9th Native Infantry mutinies near Agra
27 May Anson dies of cholera; replaced by Major-General Sir Henry Barnard
30 May Garrison at Lucknow mutinies; mutineers there dispersed or disarmed
31 May Mutinies in Rohilkhand May-July Brigadier-General John Nicholson's
     'Moveable Column' disarms regiments in the Punjab
3-14 June Mutinies and massacres at posts across Oudh, the North-West
     Provinces, central India, Rajputana and the Punjab
6 June Major-General Sir Hugh Wheeler besieged at Cawnpore by native garrison
8 June Major-General Sir Henry Barnard, in command of the Delhi Field Force
     plus the garrison at Meerut, defeats the rebels at Badli-ki-Serai and
     establishes himself on the Ridge north of Delhi
27 June British garrison massacred at Cawnpore after Nana Sahib treacherously
     violates an agreement to allow safe passage down the Ganges; surviving
     women and children imprisoned
30 June Rebels defeat Sir Henry Lawrence, commander at Lucknow, at Chinhut;
     siege of Residency begins
5 July General Barnard dies of cholera; Major-General Thomas Reed succeeds as
     commander of the Delhi Field Force
12 July Brigadier-General Sir Henry Havelock defeats rebels at Fatehpur, en
     route to Cawnpore
15 July Havelock defeats rebels at Aong and Pandu Nadi, near Cawnpore. His
     approach prompts Nana Sahib to order massacre of women and children
     captives at Cawnpore
16 July Havelock defeats rebel force under Nana Sahib's personal command near
17 July Havelock enters Cawnpore and discovers evidence of the massacre. Sir
     Archdale Wilson replaces the ailing Reed as commander of the Delhi Field
31 July Lord Canning, Governor-General of India, issues his controversial
     'Clemency' resolution, by which he advises against the execution of
     mutineers not convicted of murder
13 August General Sir Colin Campbell, Anson's successor as Commander-in-Chief
     of India, arrives at Calcutta
14 August Nicholson's 'Moveable Column' arrives at the British camp in front
     of Delhi
17 August Major William Hobson defeats a large body of rebel cavalry near
4 September Siege train, proceeding from the Punjab, arrives in the British
     camp outside Delhi
14 September Wilson begins assault on Delhi
19 September Havelock and Sir James Outram advance on Lucknow
20 September Delhi completely cleared of mutineers
23 September Nicholson, mortally wounded by a musket shot during the assault
     of the 14th, dies
25 September First relief of the Residency at Lucknow by Havelock and Outram;
     garrison is enlarged, but remains under siege; Brigadier James Neill
     killed by a musket ball during the final advance
14-17 November Second relief of the Residency at Lucknow by Campbell
19-27 November Evacuation of Lucknow; garrison left at the Alambagh; Campbell
     marches on Cawnpore, which the rebels have re-occupied after Havelock's departure
24 November Havelock dies of dysentery at Lucknow in the midst of the evacuation
26-27 November Tantia Topi and the Gwalior Contingent defeat Major-General
     Windham in second battle of Cawnpore
28-30 November Campbell reaches Cawnpore to join Windham
6 December Campbell defeats Tantia Topi in the third battle of Cawnpore


16 January Major-General Sir Hugh Rose begins campaign in central India
     February Campbell opens separate campaign for reconquest of Oudh
3 February Rose relieves Saugor after a seven-month siege
2 March Campbell commences operations against Lucknow
11-21 March Assault and capture of Lucknow; rebels escape westwards
22 March Rose invests fortified city of ]hansi
April Campbell begins pacification of Oudh and Rohilkhand
1 April Dividing his force, Rose defeats a numerically superior rebel army
     under Tantia Topi on the river Betwa
3 April Rose captures ]hansi but the Rani of ]hansi escapes to Kalpi
15 April Major-General Walpole's column disastrously repulsed in an attack on
     the fort at Ruiya
5 May Campbell defeats rebel force at Bareilly
7 May Rose defeats large rebel force under Tantia Topi and the Rani of ]hansi
     at Kunch
22 May Rose defeats rebels at Kalpi; end of operations in Rohilkhand; start
     of guerrilla warfare
28 May The last substantial rebel force, under Rao Sahib, Tantia Topi, the
     Rani of ]hansi and the Nawab of Banda enter the state of Gwalior with
     the remnants of their force and seize the city of the same name on 1
12 June Major-General Hope Grant defeats rebels at Nawabganj in the final
     decisive battle in Oudh
17 June Rani of Jhansi killed in action at Kotah-ki-Serai, near Gwalior
19 June Rose defeats the rebels at Gwalior and retakes the city; Tantia Topi flees
2 August Queen Victoria approves bill transferring administration of India
     from the East India Company to the Crown
1 November Queen's proclamation offers unconditional pardon to all rebels not
     involved in murder or the protection of murderers
1859 4 January Various Oudh rebel leaders, including Nana Sahib, forced into
     the Nepal Terai by Hope Grant
7 January Operations in Oudh declared officially over, though mopping-up
     operations continue
18 April Tantia Topi, captured on 7 April, after being betrayed to the
     British, is hanged
8 July Canning declares hostilities at an end throughout the sub-continent

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2012 Nov 28