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Indian Rebellion of 1857

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The Indian Rebellion of 1857 is also called the Great Indian Event of 1857, the Indian Mutiny, the Sepoy Mutiny,[1] India's First War of Independence or India's first struggle for independence. It began on 10 May 1857 at Meerut, as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company's army. Sepoys in the Presidency of Bengal revolted against their British officers.


The causes of the mutiny are hard to pin down, and have been much argued about. Before the Rebellion, there were 50,000 British troops, and 300,000 Sepoy serving in the East India Company military.

The forces were divided into three presidency armies: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. The make-up of these armies varied from region to region.[2]

The Bengal Army recruited higher castes, such as Rajputs and Bhumihar brahmins. They cut back the enlistment of lower castes in 1855. In contrast, the Madras Army and Bombay Army were "more localised, caste-neutral armies" that "did not prefer high-caste men".[3] The domination of higher castes in the Bengal Army has been blamed in part for initial mutinies that led to the rebellion.

There were some changes in the terms of their service which may have created resentment. As the East India Company expanded, soldiers were now expected to serve in less familiar regions, such as in Burma, and also to make do without the "foreign service" remuneration they had got previously.[4] Another financial grievance stemmed from the general service act, which denied retired sepoys a pension. This applied only to new recruits, but older sepoys suspected that it might bied apply to those already in service. Also, the Bengal Army was paid less than the Madras and Bombay Armies, which increased their fears over pensions.

Flash point

The immediate event which angered the sepoys was about the ammunition for the new rifles they had to use were Enfield rifles. The cartridges that were used in the new rifles had to be bitten open. The Muslims were angry because they thought that the paper cartridges had pig fat in them. This was because Muslims believe that pigs are unclean. Hindu soldiers were angry because they believed the cartridges had cow fat in them.[5] On January 27, Colonel Richard Birch ordered that no cartridges should have grease on them, and that sepoys could grease them with whatever they wanted.[6]

During the 1850s the British rulers continued to forcibly take some regions, ruled by Indians and made these regions (for example: the kingdom of Agra and Oudh, part of the present day Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which was seized in 1856) part of the British kingdom. Lord Dalhousie was the Governor General who decided to do this which was against Hindu customs. They did not give any respect to old royal houses of India like the Mughals (nominally Emperors of India) and the Peshwas (the most powerful of the Maratha rulers, leaders of the Maratha Confederacy).


"Attack of the Mutineers on the Redan Battery at Lucknow, July 30, 1857"
Mutiny Memorial in Jhansi, 1900

Rebellion broke out when a soldier called Mangal Pandey attacked a British sergeant and wounded an adjutant while his regiment was in Barrackpore. General Hearsey ordered another Indian soldier to arrest Mangal Pandey but he refused. Later the British arrested Mangal Pandey and the other Indian soldier. The British killed both by hanging them because what they had done was thought to be treachery. All other soldiers of that regiment lost their places in the army. On May 10th 1857, cavalry troops while doing parade at Meerut broke ranks. They freed the soldiers of the 3rd regiment, and they moved towards Delhi. Soon many Indians of north India joined these soldiers. They entered the Delhi Fort where Bahadur Shah II, the Mughal Emperor, lived, and asked him to become leader of the rebellion. He agreed unwillingly. Very soon the revolt spread throughout north India. Important Indian leaders of royal families joined the rebellion, and started fighting the British at several places. They included: Ahmed Ullah, an advisor of the ex-King of Oudh; Nana Saheb, his nephew Rao Saheb, and his retainers, Tantia Tope and Rani Lakshmibai; the Rani of Jhansi; Kunwar Singh; the Rajput chief of Jagadishpur in Bihar; and Firuz Saha, a relative of the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah.

At the beginning the British were slow to respond. Then they took very quick action with heavy forces. They brought their regiments from the Crimean War to India. They also redirected many regiments that were going to China to India. The British forces reached Delhi, and they surrounded the city from 1st July 1857 until 31st August 1857. Eventually street-to-street fights broke out between the British troops and the Indians. Ultimately, they took control of Delhi. The massacre at Kanpur (July 1857) and the siege of Lucknow (June to November 1857) were also very important.

Battle of Gwalior

The last important battle was at Gwalior (now in Madhya Pradesh) in June 1858 in which the Rani of Jhansi was killed; a few days later the British retook the fortress of Gwalior. With this, the British had practically suppressed the rebellion. However, some guerrilla fighting in many places continued until early in 1859 as Tantia Tope was captured and executed on April 1859.

British Reaction

The rebellion was an event of great importance in the front of history of modern India. The Parliament of the United Kingdom withdrew the right of the British East India Company to rule India in November 1858. The United Kingdom started ruling India directly through its representative called the Governor General. It made India a part of the British Empire. It promised "the Princes, Chiefs, and People of India," equal treatment under the British law.[7] In 1877, Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India and the Viceroy of India ruled India for her.

Revolt of 1857

The British sent Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal Emperor, out of India, and kept him in Yangon (then called Rangoon), Burma where he died in 1862. The Mughal dynasty, which had ruled India for about four hundred years, ended with his death.

The British also took many steps to employ members of Indian higher castes and rulers in the government. They started employing Indians in the civil services but at lower levels. They stopped taking the lands of the remaining princes and rulers of India. They stopped interference in religious matters. They increased the number of British soldiers, and allowed only British soldiers to handle artillery.


"Tantia Topee's Soldiery"

In England, newspapers focused on the violence of the mutiny.[8] Charles Dickens wrote that they (the English) should take revenge in his 1857 novella The perils of certain English prisoners.[9]


  • 10 May - starting date of the revolt which developed into a widents become mutinous
  • May - following the mutiny at Meerut there are outbreaks in Delhi, Ferozepur, Bombay, Aligarh, Mainpuri, Etawah, Bulundshah, Nasirabad, Bareilly, Moradabad, Shahjahanpur and elsewhere; sepoys are disarmed in Lahore, Agra, Lucknow, Peshawar and Mardan; the Delhi Field Force advances to Karnaul; death of General Anson the British commander-in-chief
  • June - Mutinies at Sitapur, Hansi, Hissar, Azamgarh, Gorakhpur and Nimach; mutinies at Gwalior, Bharatpur and Jhansi; mutiny at Kanpur, followed by the siege of the Europeans (4-25 June) and a massacre; mutiny in Banaras forestalled; mutinies at Jewanpur, Allahabad, Jullundur, Phillaur, Nowgong, Rhoni, Fatehgarh, Aurangabad (Deccan), Fatehpur and Jubbulpur; Indian units are forcibly disarmed at Nagpur and Barrackpur; mutinies at Faizabad, Sultanpur and Lucknow; order is restored in Lucknow but the district remains disturbed (Europeans take shelter in the Residency); British defeat at Chinhat (30 June) near Lucknow; siege of Lucknow begins. Other events of June: Battle of Badli-ki-Serai (8 June); Delhi Field Force takes up position on the Ridge and begins operations against Delhi; further spreading of the revolt through the Ganges plain, Rajputana and Central India
  • July - Mutinies at Indore and Mhow, Auggur, Jhelum, Saugor, Sialkot, Dinapur and Agra; siege of the Lucknow Residency continues through July; operations against Delhi continue through July; death of General Barnard, commanding at Delhi (5 July); General Havelock's force advances from Allahabad to the relief of Kanpur and arrives on the 17th, one day too late to save those massacred there; disarming of Indian units in Rawalpindi; Sialkot mutineers defeated at Trimmu Ghat (16 July)
  • August - Mutinies at Kolhapur (Bombay Presidency), Poonamali (near Madras), Jubbulpur, Bhopawar (near Indore), and Mian Mir (near Lahore); rebellion spreads through the Saugor and Narbada districts. Also: disarmamament of Indian units at Berhampur (1 August); siege of the Lucknow Residency continues and Havelock's first attempt at relief fails
  • September - Failure of an outbreak in Karachi (14 Sept.); further outbreaks in the Saugor and Narbada districts; siege of Saugor begins; the City of Delhi is assaulted and captured by the British (14-20 Sept.); the Lucknow residency is relieved by Havelock and Outram (25 Sept.) but a new siege of the reinforced garrison begins
  • October - Mutiny at Bhogalpur (near Dinapur); unrest in Bihar, north Bengal and Assam; mutiny in Bombay city is forestalled (15 Oct.); revolt in Kotah state (15 Oct.)
  • November - Sir Colin Campbell relieves Lucknow (17 Nov.); the garrison is evacuated and the city and Residency are temporarily abandoned; defeat of General Windham outside Kanpur (28 Nov.)
  • December - Decisive battle of Kanpur (6 Dec.); the armies of Rao Sahib and of Tatya Tope are routed by Sir Colin Campbell; campaign in the Doab; capture of Fatehgarh.
  • January - General Sir Hugh Rose begins the Central India campaign; Sir Colin Campbell begins the campaign to recapture Lucknow
  • February - General Rose relieves Saugor; Campbell's Army of Oudh assembles on the Kanpur-Lucknow road to await Jang Bahadur's Gurkha army from Nepal
  • March - Lucknow is recaptured on 21 March; Central India campaign continues
  • April - Battle of the Betwa; the nearby city of Jhansi is stormed and captured (3-6 April); Azamgarh recaptured; advance on Kalpi (25 April); Campbell begins reconquest of Rohilkhand; Koer Singh leads a rising in Bihar; after his defeat he dies of his wounds
  • May - Battle of Bareilly followed by its recapture; Battle of Kunch; recapture of Jagdispur; reoccupation of Kalpi; Battle of Mohamdi (24 May) and end of resistance in Rohilkhand; rebels begin guerrilla war in the jungle; Tatya Tope and the Rani of Jhansi outside Gwalior
  • June - Gwalior army deserts to the rebels and Tatya Tope and the Rani of Jhansi seize Gwalior; General Rose marches from Kalpi to Gwalior arriving on the 16th; next day the battle of Kotah-i-Serai and on the 18th the Battle of Gwalior; Gwalior fortress recaptured; during June guerrilla forces in Oudh, Bihar and along the Nepalese frontier are suppressed
  • July to December - suppression of guerrilla forces except in Rajputana and Central India
  • April - Trial (15th) and execution (18th) of Tatya Tope (Ramachandra Pandurang Tope), the last captured rebel leader; end of the Indian rebellion of 1857.


  1. Sepoy: an Indian footsoldier (of whatever religion) in the East India Company army or the British Indian Army. The term comes from the Persian language "Sipahi".
  2. Gregory Fremont-Barnes 2007. Essential histories, The Indian Rebellion 1857–1858. Osprey, p25.
  3. Mazumder, Rajit K. (2003), The Indian Army and the making of the Punjab, Delhi: Permanent Black, pp. 7–8, ISBN 81-7824-059-9  
  4. Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 171, Bose & Jalal 2003, p. 90
  5. "The 1857 Indian Mutiny". Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  6. David, Saul (2003), The Indian Mutiny: 1857, London: Penguin Books, 528 pp,

    Template-specific style sheet:

    ISBN 0-14-100554-8
  7. Tarling, Nicholas. Nations and States in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Chakravarty G. (2004), The Indian Mutiny and the British imagination, Cambridge University Press 
  9. Brantlinger, Patrick 1990. Rule of darkness: British literature and imperialism, 1830-1914. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

    Template-specific style sheet:

    ISBN 0-8014-9767-1
  • Edwardes, Michael (1975) Red Year. London: Sphere Books; pp. 153–55 (events of the rebellion)

Text-books and academic monographs

  • Alavi, Seema (1996), The Sepoys and the Company: Tradition and Transition 1770-1830, Oxford University Press, p. 340, ISBN 0195634845
  • Harris, John (2001), The Indian Mutiny, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, pp. 205, ISBN 1840222328
  • Hibbert, Christopher (1980), The Great Mutiny: India 1857, London: Allen Lane, pp. 472, ISBN 0140047522
  • Keene, Henry George (1883), Fifty-Seven: some account of the administration of Indian Districts during the revolt of the Bengal Army, London: W. H. Allen, pp. 145 .
  • Metcalf, Thomas R. (1990), The Aftermath of Revolt: India, 1857-1870, New Delhi: Manohar, pp. 352, ISBN 8185054991
  • Mukherjee, Rudrangshu (2002), Awadh in Revolt 1857-1858: A Study of Popular Resistance (2nd ed.), London: Anthem, ISBN 1843310759
  • Palmer, Julian A.B. (1966), The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857, Cambridge University Press, pp. 175, ISBN 0521059011
  • Roy, Tapti (1994), The politics of a popular uprising: Bundelkhand 1857, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 291, ISBN 0195636120
  • Stokes, Eric; Bayly, C.A. (ed.) (1986), The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857, Oxford: Clarendon, pp. 280, ISBN 0198215703
  • Taylor, P. J. O. (1997), What Really Happened during the Mutiny: a day-by-day account of the major events of 1857-1859 in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 323, ISBN 0195641825