book excerptise:   a book unexamined is not worth having

The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857

J. A. B. Palmer

Palmer, J. A. B.;

The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857

Cambridge University Press (South Asian Studies v2), 1966, 188 pages

ISBN 0521059011, 9780521059015

topics: |  india | history | british-raj | mutiny

Excerpts: On whether the cartridges were greased or not

Everyone agrees that the Enfield cartridges used in Britain were
pre-greased with beef and pork fat.  The enfield was introduced into India
in 1856 and cartridges with beef tallow were being manufactured in Fort
William Calcutta starting August 1856.  British histories invariably talk
of the "rumours among native troops" about the grease; it is amazing how
most historians of the mutiny have not found convincing evidence (either
for or against) on the question of whether such bullets were actually
issued to native soldiers or not. The story is that "mutton fat" was used,
not beef.  But there is no evidence that mutton fat cartridges were
manufactured anywhere.

Here are some parts of the book dealing with this question.  See the
comparison of several texts in this summary.

Enfield Cartridges and tallow grease

A consignment of [the Enfield cartridges] 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

There is, rather surprisingly, no comprehensive note discoverable on the
subject, and nothing beyond sparse and scattered papers in the India Office
Records. The reader of Kaye can see that even he, with all the facilities at
his disposal, was compelled to fashion an account out of just this
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.  p.11

"Mutton fat" hypothesis

The service ammunition greasing composition was apparently mutton fat. This
explains a statement of the Adjutant-General that for some years greased
rifle ammunition had been used by native troops to whom Minie rifles had been
issued on the Peshawar frontier and also by the rifle companies.18 Kaye
doubted, and indeed disbelieved, this statement: but that was because he
thought the whole question of cartridge-greasing before the appearance of the
Enfield rifle was governed by the instructions of 1847. [FN19 Kaye, Sepoy
War, vol. 1, p. 516, footnote.]

[AM: However, we find no mention where the mutton fat cartridges were
manufactured (if greased on the field, they would have used oil wax etc.;
fat was needed only because these lubricants evaporated more easily than
tallow).  The production at Fort William was based on beef tallow, and the
British product included pork and beef fat.  Thus, the "mutton fat"
hypothesis requires further srcutiny, as admitted by Palmer himself
later. ]

That opinion is not really tenable because it confuses greasing of patches
with greasing of cartridges; so, in spite of Kaye's doubts, the
Adjutant-General's statement that cartridges had been greased with mutton fat
ought to be accepted.  It applied to balled service cartridges, which would
be used, of course, also for target practice. p.14
[FN14.  Inspector-General of Ordnance to Adjutant-General, 28 January
1857 'the composition used to grease patches of rifle balls is said not to
last well but fresh grease can at any time be applied' {P.P. xxx, 1857,
p. 40): Inspector-General of Ordnance to Secretary to Government of
India, 29 January 1857, 'The patch mixture would not answer for
bundled cartridges but answers well for patches of detached balls to
which it is applied when the balls are about to be used.' Does he mean
that it is still being applied in practice, or that, in theory, it answers
the purpose when applied in this way? ]

one must suppose a general changeover between 1847 and 1857 (or more probably
1855) from unballed to balled cartridges. Were, then, these balled cartridges
greased ? Observe in that connection that, while service cartridges were
balled, practice cartridges for loading and firing drill only were blank,
which is to say unballed.16 When the balled cartridge loading drill, with
reversal of the fag-end, was applied to a blank cartridge, greasing would be
unnecessary, for there was no ball within the paper to obstruct the passage
down the barrel. Blank practice ammunition of this kind therefore remained
without grease. p.13

January 1857 : Enfield rifle and cartridges

The British authorities officially adopted the Enfield rifle, but in the
first place it was issued to the rifle regiments. The 1st Battalion of the
60th Queens Royal Rifles, stationed at Meerut (as it happened), which had
used the Brunswick rifle since 1 January 1841, was issued with the Enfield
rifle on 1 January 1857.20 The Indian military authorities also decided to
introduce the Enfield rifle as a general issue. In the first place they
obtained enough pieces 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. Detachments from
forty-four regiments went through the Ambala depot in the first quarter of
the year.21 Apparently, training was also given at the Artillery School of
Instruction at Meerut, but this was presumably only to recruits for the
Bengal Artillery. 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 tofire,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. [FN22. Captain Martineau's evidence at the Trial of the ex-King of
Delhi.  {Selections from Records of the Punjab and its Dependencies,
n.s. no. vii),  p. 156-7] p.14

At Meerut, when the Enfield rifle was issued to the 60th (1 Jan 1857), no
ammunition was issued with it. Protest was made against this and thereupon
ten rounds per man were issued. [Lt.-Col. Lewis Butler, Annals of the
King's Royal Rifles, vol. in, p. 88. ]  This was apparently service
(balled) ammunition and it had been greased at the time of manufacture: it
was the only issue of such ammunition in India known to have been made
prior to the evening of 10 May, apart from the small quantity issued at the
Musketry Depot at Ambala on 17 April as just mentioned. It was supplied
from Calcutta: there was a considerable quantity of it sent up to Meerut
for the 60th and the manufacture went on at the arsenal at Dum-Dum. 15

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 (as
mentioned above) 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. 16

Parade at Meerut April 24

The order for the parade was no doubt posted.  [The lines were informed]
that all the skirmishers would have to [use the new cartridges] next day.
Thereupon, two Muhammadan naiks (corporals), Pir Ali and Kudrat Ali, told
their comrades that these new cartridges were greased with beef and pork
fat and would defile both Hindus and Muhammadans: the men then bound
themselves by an oath (Hindus on Ganges water and Muhammadans on the Koran)
not to use the cartridges until every regiment had consented to do so. 9
The three testifying witnesses as to the oath are all Hindus and they
fasten the blame on two Muhammadans who happened in fact to be the first
two men to refuse the cartridges on parade next day. There is, however,
ample confirmation of the state of feeling in the regiment that night.

Sometime in the evening, Captain Craigie,who commanded the 4th Troop, sent a
note to the acting Adjutant and commander of the 5th Troop, Lieutenant
Melville-Clarke, which read as follows:

    Go at once to Smyth and tell him that the men of my troop have requested
    in a body that the skirmishing tomorrow morning may be countermanded, as
    there is a commotion throughout the native troops about cartridges, and
    that the regiment will become budnam if they fire any cartridges. I
    understand that in all six troops a report of the same kind is being
    made. This is amost serious matter, and we mayhavethe whole regiment in
    mutiny in half an hour if this is not attended to.  Pray don't lose a
    moment but go to Smyth at once. 2. We have none ofthe objectionable
    cartridges, but themensay that iftheyfire any kind of cartridge at
    present they lay themselves open to the imputation from their comrades
    and from other regiments of having fired the objectionable ones.10

Later, Craigie gave a slightly watered down version of his note. He said he
received no report that the men would not use the cartridges but about 10
p.m. the Troop Colour Havildar brought a report that men of the troop had
requested the native officers to solicit the Colonel to defer the parade
until the agitation as to the cartridges had ceased. Feeling the importance
of this, Craigie wrote to the Adjutant in strong terms. 61

The Colonel [George Monro Carmichael-Smyth] was on the horns of a dilemma. He
had given an order and could not withdraw in the face of explicitly
threatened disobedience: he would then have been in the same position as
Mitchell of the 19th N.I. at Berhampore, who was censured for coming to terms
with men with arms in their hands.  And rightly: for what use is an army that
will not load and fire?  p.62

[Eventually 85 out of the 90 men refused to use the cartridges.  48 were
muslim and 37 hindus.  All were court-martialed and severely punished.  A
the following day, the remaining sepoys rebelled setting off the mutiny. ]


 1.  Chapātis
     [mysterious chapatis were being sent from village to village.  most
     modern historians apparently don't pay much heed to this.]
 2.  Greased cartridges
 3.  The Presidency division, February to May
 4.  Regiments and officers at Meerut
 5.  Meerut Cantonment in 1857
 6.  The firing parade of 24 April and its sequel
 7.  The outbreak: (a) The native infantry lines
 8.  The outbreak: (b) The native cavalry lines
 9.  The outbreak: (c) The Bazar mobs
 10. The outbreak: (d) The European troop movements and the European lines
 11. The handling of the European troops
 12. To Delhi
 13. Conclusions
     Notes and references
     Plan of Meerut Cantonment in 1857

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] 2011 May 02