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N the 23rd of June, 1857, the hundredth anniversary of
the battle of Plassey was celebrated in London. One object of the celebration was to obtain the means of raising a monument to Clive in his native country. At such a meeting it was but natural that a good deal should be said about the existing condition of India, and the prospects of that great empire which the genius and the daring of Clive had gone so far to secure for the English Crown. It does not appear, however, as if any alarm was expressed with regard to the state of things in Bengal, or as if any of the noblemen and gentlemen present believed that at that very moment India was passing through a crisis more serious than Clive himself had had to encounter. Indeed, a montlı or so before a Bombay journal had congratulated itself on the fact that India was quiet“ throughout.” Yet at the hour when the Plassey celebration was going on the great Indian mutiny was already six weeks old, had already assumed full and distinctive proportions, was already known in India to be a convulsion destined to shake to its foundations the whole fabric of British rule in Hindostan. A few evenings after the celebration there was some cursory and casual discussion in Parliament about the doubtful news that had begun to arrive from India ; but as yet no Englishman at
home took serious thought of the matter. The news came at last with a rush.
Never in our time, never probably at any time, came such news upon England as the first full story of the outbreak in India. It came with terrible, not unnatural, exaggeration. England was horror-stricken by the stories of wholesale massacres of English women and children; of the most abominable tortures, the most degrading outrages inflicted upon English matrons and maidens. The newspapers ran over with the most horrifying and the most circumstantial accounts of how English ladies of the highest refinement were dragged naked through the streets of Delhi, and were paraded in their nakedness before the eyes of the aged king of Delhi, in order that his hatred might be feasted with the sight of the agony and shame of the captives. Descriptions were given, to which it is unnecessary to make any special allusions now, of the vile mutilations and tortures inflicted on English women to glut the vengeance of the tyrant. The pen of another Procopius could alone have done full justice to the narratives which were poured in day after day upon the shuddering ears of Englishmen, until all thought even of the safety of the Indian Empire was swallowed up in a wild longing for revenge on the whole seed, breed and race of the mutinous people who had tortured and outraged our countrywomen. It was not till the danger was all over, and British arms had reconquered Northern India that England learned the truth with regard to these alleged outrages and tortures. Let us dispose of this most painful part of the terrible story at the very beginning, and once for all. During the Indian Mutiny the blood of innocent women and children was cruelly and lavishily spilled; on one memorable occasion with a bloodthirstiness that might have belonged to the most savage times of mediæval warfare. But there were no outrages, in the common acceptation, upon women. No English women were stripped or dishonored or purposely mutilated. this fact all historians of the mutiny are agreed
But if the first stories of the outbreak that reached Eng. land dealt in exaggerations of this kind, they do not seem to have exaggerated, they do not seem to have even adequately appreciated, the nature of the crisis with whici England was suddenly called upon to deal. The fact was, that throughout the greater part of the north and northwest of the great Indian peninsula there was a rebellion of the native races against English power. It was not alone the Sepoys who rose in revolt. It was not by any means a merely military mutiny. It was a combination whether the growth of deliberate design and long preparations, or the sudden birth of chance and unexpected opportunity--a combination ot mili. tary grievance, national hatred, religionis fanaticism, against the English occuppiers of India. The native princes and the native soldiers were in it. The Mohammedan and the Hindoo forgot thicir own religious antipathics to join against the Christian. Hatred and panic were the stimulants of that great rebellious movement. The quarrel about the greased cartridges was but the chance spark flung in among all the combustiblc matcrial. If that spark had not lighted it, some other would have done the work. In fact, there are thoughttul and well-intormed historians who believe that the incident of the greased cartridges was a fortunate one for our people; that coming as it did it prccipitated unexpectedly a great convulsion which, occuring later, and as the result of more gradual operations, might have been far more dangerous to the perpctnity of our ruls.
Let us first see what were the actual facts of the outbreak. When the improved (Enfield) rifle was introduced into the Indian army, the idea got abroad that the cartridges were made up in paper greased with a mixture of cow's tat and hog's lard. It appears that the paper was actually greased, but not with any such material as that which religious alarm suggested to the native troops. Now a mixture of cow's fat and hog's lord would have been. above all other things,
unsuitable for use in cartidges to be distributed among our Sepoys; for the Hindoo regards the cow with religious veneration, and the Mohammedan looks upon the hog with utter loathing. In the mind of the former something sacred to him was profane; in that of the latter something unclean and abominable was forced upon his daily use. It was in 1856 that the new rifles were sent out from England, and the murmur against their use began at once. Various efforts were made to allay the panic among the native troops. The use of the cartridges complained of was discontinued by orders issued in January, 1857. The Governor-General sent out a proclamation in the following May, assuring the army of Bengal that the tales told to them of offence to their reigion or injury to their caste being meditated by the Government of India, were all malicious inventions and falseernment of India, were all malicious juroutiung and falsehoods. Still the idea was strong among the troo;'s that some design against their religion was meditated. A mutinous spirit began to spread itself abroad. In March some of the native regiments had to be disbanded. In April some ex. ecutions of Sepoys took place for gross and open mutiny. In the same month several of the Bengal native cavalry in Meerut refused to use the cartridges served out to them, although they had been authoritatively assured that the paper in which the cartridges were wrapped had never been touched by any offensive material. On May 9th these men were sent to the jail. They had been tried by court-martial, and were sentenced, eighty of them, to imprisonment and hard labor for ten years, the remaining five to a similar pun. ishment for six years. They had chains put on them in the presence of their comrades, who no doubt regarded them as martyrs to their religious faith, and they were thus publicly marched off to the common jail. The guard placed over the jail actually consisted of Sepoys.
The following day, Sunday, May roth was memorable. The native troops in lieerut broke into open mutiny. The
summa dies, the ineluctabile tempus had come. They fired upon their officers, killed a colonel and others, broke into the jail, released their comrades, and massacred several ot the European inhabitants. The European troops rallied and drove them from their cantonments or barracks. Then came the momentous event, the turning point of the mi. tiny; the act that marked out its character, and made i!: what it afterwards became. Meerut is an important military station between the Ganges and the Jumna, thirtyeight miles north-east from Delhi. In the vast palace of Delhi, almost a city in itself, a reeking Alsatia of lawless and privileged vice and crime, lived the aged King of Delhi, as he was called; the disestablished, but not wholly disen. dowed, sovereign, the descendant of the great Timour the last representative of the Grand Mogul. The mutineers fled along the road to Delhi; and some evil fate directed that they were not to be pursued or stopped on their way Unchecked, unpursued, they burst into Delhi, and swarmed into the precincts of the palace of the king. They claimed his protection; they insisted upon his accepting their cause and themselves. They proclaimed him Emperor of India. and planted the standard of rebellion against English rule on the battlements of his palace. They had found in one moment a leader, a flag, and a cause, and the mutiny was transfigured into a revolutionary war. The Sepoy troops, in the city and the cantonments on the Delhi ridge, two miles off, and overlooking the city at once began to cast in their lot with the mutineers. The poor old puppet whom they set up as their emperor was some eighty years of age ; a feeble creature, believed to have a mild taste for poetry and weak debauchery. He had long been merely a pensioner of the East India Company During the early intrigues and struggles between the English and French in India the company had taken the sovereigns of Delhi under their protection, nominally to save them from the age:c5