History of the British East Indian Company and the Sepoy Mutiny Part 2

About the history of the Sepoy mutiny against the British East Indian Company in India.



With their religious salvation at stake, the sepoys refused to use the cartridges. Viewing this as superstitious insubordination, the British punished those who rejected the bullets. In Meerut, near Delhi, 85 sepoys were arrested and tossed into jail. On Sunday, May 10, a group of sepoys began rioting in a Meerut brothel, then stormed the jail and released their comrades. The garrison's three sepoy regiments openly mutinied, killing their officers and any Europeans they encountered.

After pillaging Meerut, the sepoys marched on to Delhi, the ancient Mogul capital. The Delhi sepoy regiments also mutinied, and the city was taken by the rebels. Those British who did not escape, including women and children, were massacred. The fall of Delhi encouraged most sepoy garrisons in the Ganges Valley to rebel. By summer, northern India was in the hands of the mutineers.

The British retreated to fortresses in other cities, where they were besieged. Nine hundred English men, women, and children surrendered at Cawnpore, only to be slaughtered by the sepoy mutineers. With some 4,000 British and loyal Indian troops, Gen. Sir Henry Havelock, at Lucknow, kept at bay 60,000 mutineers before he dropped dead from exhaustion. But British resistance continued, infuriating the rebels, who executed their prisoners by shooting them from cannons.

Britain was taken by surprise by the mutiny and was also involved in a war with China, but it slowly mobilized its forces and shipped units from Burma, China, and Persia to India. By late summer of 1857, the British counterattacked the sepoys. In September, after fierce street fighting, Delhi was recaptured and the British once again had the upper hand. By the end of 1857, Lucknow was relieved and Cawnpore was retaken. At both cities the mutineers suffered heavy casualties. In the winter of 1858, the sepoy mutineers were decisively defeated at Jhansi.

Aftermath. Although the sepoy mutineers' armies were defeated and the occupied Indian cities were recaptured, the British fought small rebel bands for another two years before the mutiny was completely crushed and the countryside was pacified. The British instigated savage reprisals against the mutineers, executing tens of thousands.

Shaken by the ferocity of the mutiny, Britain took over direct rule of India. Doing away with both the East India Company and its puppetally, the Mogul emperor, the new British-controlled government allied itself with the Indian upper classes and supported policies which would maintain a conservative status quo. The British also ceased their interference in Indian religious practices.

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