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The Supression of the Revolt - 1857

Delhi The Focal Point of The Revolt was first Captured

Bahadur Shah for 1857 trailsIt is clear from all accounts that the history have of 1857 that the British did not have an easy time in putting down the rebellion. Before sending out troops to reconquer North India, the British passed a series of laws to help them quell the insurgency. By a number of Acts, passed in May and June 1857, not only was the whole of North India put under martial law but military officers and even ordinary Britons were given the power to try and punish Indians suspected of rebellion. In other words, the ordinary processes of law and trial were suspended and it was put out that rebellion would have only one punishment – death. Armed with these newly enacted special laws and the reinforcements brought in from Britain, the British began the task of suppressing the revolt. They, like the rebels, recognised the symbolic value of Delhi. The British thus mounted a two-pronged attack. One force moved from Calcutta into North India and the other from the Punjab – which was largely peaceful – to reconquer Delhi.

The attempts to recover Delhi began in earnest in early June 1857 but it was only in late September that the city was finally captured. The fighting and losses on both sides were heavy. One reason for this was the fact that rebels from all over North India had come to Delhi to defend the capital. In the Ganegtic plain too the progress of British reconquest was slow. The forces had to reconquer the area village by village. The countryside and the people around were entirely hostile. This can be seen from the words of Field Marshal Roberts who was part of the war -

"By july 3rd the strength of our forces was increased to nearly 6,600 men of all arms.The enemy's reinforcements, however were out of all proportions to ours... Indeed throughout the seize the enemy's numbers were constantly being increased, while they had a practically unlimited number of guns, and the well stocked magazine furnished them with an inexhaustible supply of ammunition."

"The falure of Campbell's colmn, the hopelessness of Nicholson's condition, and above all, the heavy list of casualities he received later, appeared to crush all spirit and energy out of General Wilson.... He became more than convinced that his wisest course was to withdraw from the city."

From such a commanding situation to the stage of defeating will be rather unexpected out of the Delhi rebillions.The Britishers captured Delhi by various means of deception and stratigies. The delhi rebilions had many spies of East India company. They would be informaing each and every information about moments and other stratigies. The members of the Badshah family themselves are disloyal to the rebillion and loyal to the British.

The massacre in Delhi is described in a large number of memoirs that exist and in British reports. The whole city was de-populated and subject to wild slughter . The slaughter went on for days. If the rebels killed the English in hundreds, the English killed in tens of thousands. Numberless Indians were "tried" and hanged or shot in gruesome ways for the presumed offence of complicity in the killing of English persons, but which Briton was ever brought to face retribution for killing hundreds of ordinary Indians, men, women and children? How can we treat the two as at par? Therefore, when our statesmen (as our Prime Minister did, the one fine day, at Oxford) speak of the good things that happened under British rule, like the establishment of the Indian Civil Service, they should think sometimes of 1857, not only of the rebels but also of the ordinary citizens - men, women and children - who were shot or hacked to death or killed by various means, under the aegis of our great praiseworthy benefactors.

The British FInally Captured Delhi on september 20 , 1857 after prolonged and bitter fighting. John Nicholson, the leader of the seige was badly wounded and later succumbed to his injuries. Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner. The royal princes were captured and butchered on the spot, publickly shot at point blank range by Lieurenant Hudson himself. The emperor was exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862. THus the great house of Mughals was finally and completely extinguished. With the Delhi's fall which happens to be the focal point of the Revolt- the revolt started collapsing.

As soon as they began their counter-insurgency operations, the British realised that they were not dealing with a mere mutiny but an uprising that had huge popular support. In Awadh, for example, a British official called Forsyth estimated that three-fourths of the adult male population was in rebellion. The area was brought under control only in March 1858 after protracted fighting. The British used military power on a gigantic scale.

But this was not the only instrument they used. In large parts of present-day Uttar Pradesh, where big landholders and peasants had offered united resistance, the British tried to break up the unity by promising to give back to the big landholders their estates. Rebel landholders were dispossessed and the loyal rewarded. Many landholders died fighting the British or they escaped into Nepal where they died of illness or starvation.


Leaders Fell One By One

One by one , all the great leaders of the revolt fell. Millitary operations for the recapture of Kanpur were closely associated with the recovery of Lucknow. Sir Colin Campbell occupied Kanpur on December 6, 1857. Nan Saheb , defeated at Kanpur, escaped to Nepal in early 1859, never to be heard of again. His close associate Tantia Tope escaped into the jungles of Central India, was captured while asleep in April 1859 and put to death.

The Rani of Jhansi had died on the battle-field ealier in june 1858. Jhansi was recaptured through assault by Hugh Rose. By 1859, Kunwar Singh , Bakht Khan , Khan Bahadur Khan of Barieely , Rao Saheb (brother of Nana Saheb ) and Maulavi Ahmadullah were all dead.

By the end of 1859, British authority over India was fully re-established. The British Government had to pour immense supplies of men, money and arms into the country, though Indians had to later repay the entire cost through their own suppression.

Some images of the Brutual Supression of the revolt by The British


The Revolt oF 1857


Early British atrocity. Blowing away rebellious sepoys after tying them to cannons (May 21, 1857). From Sir Colin Campbell, `Narrative of the Indian Revolt from its Outbreak to the Capture of Lucknow', London, 1858. This image shows how brutually the revolt was suppressed.

Execution of mutinous sepoys in Peshawar, Illustrated London News, 3 October 1857 In this scene of execution 12 rebels hang in a row, with cannons all around them. What you see is not routine punishment: it is the performance of terror. For it to instil fear among people, punishment could not be discreetly meted out in enclosed spaces. It had to be theatrically performed in the open.


The ransacking by the British at Lucknow

THE BRITISH SACK of Kaiser Bagh, Lucknow (March 18, 1858). W.H. Russell, correspondent of the `Times' (on the left) looks on. (From Charles Ball, History of Indian Mutiny, Vol.I, London, 1858, page 267.)

The brutual suppression of the 1857 revolt

The British retaliated with horrific violence against the native population. (Charles Ball, `History of the Indian Mutiny', Vol. 1.)


Source : " The Frontline Magazine's Special issue on 1857" and NCERT

The Time Line of the Revolt


Presented below is the brief timeline of 1857 revolt. (Source : NCERT)


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