Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

There were peculiar reasons too why, if religious and political distrust did prevail, the moment of Lord Canning's accession to the supreme authority in India should seem in. viting and favorable for schemes of sedition. The Afghan war had told the Sepoy that British troops are not absolutely invincible in battle. The impression produced almost everywhere in India by the Crimean War was a ccaviction that the strength of England was on the wane. The stories of vur disasters in the Crimea had gone abroad, adorned with immense exaggerations, among all the native popula tions of Hindostan. Any successes that the Russians had had during the war were in Asia, and these naturally impressed the Asiatic mind more than the victories of France and England which were won farther off. Intelligent and quick-witted Mohammedans and Hindoos talked with Englishmen, English officers in India, and hearà froin them the accounts of the manner in which our system had broken down in the Crimca, of the blunders of our government, and the shortcomings of our leaders. They entirely misinterpreted the significance of the stories that were so freely told. The Englishmen who spoke of our failures talked of them as the provoking and inexcusable blunders of departments and individuals; the Asiatics who greedily listened were convinced that they heard the acknowledgment of a national collapse. The Englishmen were so confident in the strength and resources of their country that it did not even occur to them to think that anybody on earth could have a doubt on the subject. It was as if a millionaire were to complain to some one in a foreign country that the neglect and blunder of a servant had sent his remittances to some wrong place, and left him for the moment without money enough to pay his hotel bill, and the listener were to accept this as a genuine announcement of approaching bankruptcy. The Sepoy saw that the English force in Northern India was very small; and he really believed that it was small because

England had no more men to send there. He was as ignorant as a child about everything which he had not seen with his own eyes; and he knew absolutely nothing about the strength, the population, and the resources of England. In his mind Russia was the great rising and conquer. ing country: England was sinking into decay; her star waning before the strong glare of the portentous northern light.

Other impulses too there were to make sedition believe that its opportunity had come. Lord Canning had hardly assumed office as Governor-General of India when the dispute occurred between the British and Chinese authorities at Canton, and a war was imminent between England and China. Troops were sent shortly after from England to China; and although none were taken from India, yet it was well known among the native populations that England had an Asiatic war on her hands. Almost at the same moment. war was declared against Persia by the proclamation of the Gover. nor-General at Calcutta, in consequence of the Shah having marched an army into Herat and besieged it, in violation of a treaty with Great Britain made in 1853. A body of troops was sent from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, and shortly after General Outram left Bombay with additional troops, as commander-in-chief of the field force in Persia. There. fore, in the opening days of 1857, it was known among the native populations of India that the East India Company was at war with Persia, and that England had on her hands a quarrel with China. At this time the number of native soldiers in the employment of England throughout Northern India was about one hundred and twenty thousand, while the European soldiers numbered only some twenty-two thousand. The native army of the three Presidencies taken together was nearly three hundred thousand, while the Europeans were but forty-three thousand, of whom some five thousand had just been told off for duty in Persia. It

must be owned that, given the existence of a seditious spirit, it would have been hardly possible for it to find conditions more seemingly favorable and tempting. To many a temper of sullen discontent the appointed and fateful hour must have seemed to be at hand.

There can be no doubt that a conspiracy for the subversion of the English Government in India was afoot during the early days of 1857, and possibly for long before. The story of the mysterious chupatties is well known The chupatties are small cakes or unleavened bread, “ bannocks of salt and dough," they have been termed; and they were found to be distributed with amazing rapidity and precision of systern at one time thoughout the native villages of the north and north-west. A native messenger brought two of these mysterious cakes to the watchman or headman of a village and bade him to have others prepared like them, and to pass them on to another place. The token has been well described as the fiery cross of India, although it would not appear that its significance was as direct and precise as that of the famous Highland war-signal. It is curious how varying and unsatisfactory is the evidence about the meaning of these chupatties. According to the positive declaration of some witnesses, the sending of such a token had never been a custom, either Mohammedan or Hindoo, in India. Some witnesses believe that the chupatties were regarded as spells to vert some impending calamity. Others said the native population looked on them as having been sent round by the government itself as a sign that in future all would be compelled to eat the same food as the Christians ate Others again said the intention was to make this known, but to make it known on the part of the seditious, in order that the people might be prepared to resist the plans of the English. But there could be no doubt that the chupatties conveyed a warning to all who received them that something strar? was about to happen, and

bade them to be prepared for whatever might befall. One fact alone conclusively proves that the signal given had a special reference to impending events connected with British cule in India. In no instance were they distributed among the populations of still-existing native States. They were only sent among the villages over which English rule extended. To the quick, suspicious mind of the Asiatic a breath of warning may be as powerful as the crash of an alarm-bell or the sound of a trumpet. It may be, as some authorities would have us to believe, that the panic about the greased cartridges disconcerted, instead of bringing to a climax, the projects of sedition.

[graphic]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

THE
HE news of the outbreak at Meerut, and the procla.

mation in Delhi, broke upon Calcutta with the shock of a thunderclap. Yet it was not wholly a shock of surprise. For some time there had been vague anticipations of some impending danger. There was alarm in the air. There had long been a prophecy known to India that the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Plassey would see the end of English rule in Hindostan; and now the hundredth anniversary was near. There is a fine passage in Sir Henry Taylor's “ Philip van Artevelde," in which Van Ryk says to the hero of the drama

“ If you mark, my Lord,

Mostly a rumor of such things precedes
The certain tidings;"

· Philip musingly answers-

• It is strange-yer true
That doubtful knowledge travels with a speed
Miraculous, which certain cannot match.
I know not why, when this or that has chanced,
The smoke outruns the flash: but so it is."

The smoke had apparently outrun the flash in many parts of India during this eventful season. Calcutta heard the news of what had happened with wild alarm and horror, but hardly with much surprise.

« AnteriorContinuar »