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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857-58

Coloured lithograph from 'The Campaign in India 1857-58' © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

The 1857 uprising against British rule in India started because both Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the sepoy, or Indian, regiments of the East India Company, objected to having to bite open rifle cartridges rumoured to be smeared with fat from animals which were forbidden or sacred in their religions.

The Sepoy Mutiny was a violent and very bloody uprising against the oppressing British rule in India in 1857. It is also known by other names: the Indian Mutiny, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or the Indian Revolt of 1857. British interest in Awadh began in the 1760s and after 1800 they exercised increasing control there. It was annexed by the British in 1856.

Large numbers of native soldiers, known as sepoys, were employed by the company to maintain order and defend trading centers. The sepoys were generally under the command of British officers in the late 1700s and early 1800s, sepoys tended to take great pride in their military prowess, and they exhibited enormous loyalty to their British officers. But in the 1830s and 1840s, tensions began to emerge. A number of Indians began to suspect that the British intended to convert the Indian population to Christianity. Increasing numbers of Christian missionaries began arriving in India, and their presence gave credence to rumors of impending conversions.

The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 © -

The beginning of the Uprising can be dated to the 29th of March 1857 at Barrackpore, when a sepoy called Mangal Pandey of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, attacked his officers. Pandey’s unit in the Bengal Army, which had refused to use the new rifle cartridges, was about to be punished and imprisoned. Pandey rebelled by shooting a British sergeant-major and a lieutenant. Mangal Pandey’s comrades were ordered to restrain him but they refused. British troops surrounded Pandey and then he shot himself in the chest. Pandey survived but was later hanged on the 8th of April, 1857. Only a handful of sepoys were involved in this incident, yet the entire regiment were stripped of their uniform and disbanded. Common feeling amongst sepoys was that this was too harsh a punishment.

Pandey has often been considered a hero in India, portrayed as a freedom fighter in films and his image appearing on some Indian postage stamps.

In May and June 1857, more regiments of Indian troops mutinied against the British. Many sepoys in the south of India remained loyal to their British officers, but in the north, many regiments of the Bengal Army rebelled against the British. The uprising on both sides became extremely violent.

During 1857 to 1858, over one hundred thousand troops, over 2/3 of the Bengal army, mutinied. Almost all the cavalry and 70 infantry regiments rose against their commanders.

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