An Outline of the Main Events at Lucknow

Plan of the City of Lucknow

30th May – the sepoys of the 13th, 48th and 71st regiments of Native Infantry broke into open rebellion at Marioan Cantonment. The 7th Cavalry was stationed some distance away at Mudkipur. 17 year old Corenet Raleigh, only recently joined was murdered by the cavalry troopers. The firing started in the lines of the 71st N.I. Their brigadier, Handsomb, who had been warned not to approach the lines, was shot. Sir Henry Lawrence, as soon as the first shots were fired , rode with his staff to the camp of the 32nd Regiment of Foot. He ordered one company to be posted with 2 guns on the road south of cantonments to off the rebels from Lucknow and ordered the remainder to
take post on the right of the 71st lines sweeping their front. They had no sooner done so than the sepoys of the 71srt came pouring our upon the parade ground, and began firing..” 1
The 32nd answered with grape and the mutineers fled, murdering Lieutenant Grant of the 71st at his post. He was on duty when the mutiny began – although some loyal men attempted to save his life, it was to no avail.
200 men of the 13th with their colours and treasure and a few of the 71st remained loyal and fell in with the 32nd.
The regiments then contented themselves with burning their own lines and plundering. It was considered useless to try and stop them and eventually the rioting stopped. 1st June – In the morning it was found that only some 700 troops of the three regiments at the 7th Cavalry had remained loyal. The rest had assembled in Mudikipur where, just like in Marioan, the lines had been plundered. Sir Henry pursued them at daybreak, accompanied by 2 companies of the 32nd, 4 guns and 300 horse. Finding the mutineers drawn up on a level plain, he ordered the guns to open fire. The mutineers fled towards Sitapur. Although they were pursued by the cavalry for another 10 miles, it proved fruitless. Many of the cavalry used this as opportunity to desert to the mutineers and the rest only half-heartedly kept up the chase. 61 prisoners were captured.

From now on, Sir Henry Lawrence devoted his energies to reinforce and stockpile the Residency and Machhi Bhawan. All remained uneasy but relatively quiet in Lucknow until the Battle of Chinhat.

Machhi Bhawan before 1857

30th June – Battle of Chinhat.

1st July –The Machi Bhawan Fort is destroyed.

The fort, like the Martiniere College, then on the outskirts of Lucknow, had been deemed untenable due to its distance from the Residency and the fact that the British were undermanned – it was decided to concentrate all their defences on one position rather than trying to defend two. Even though they had spent the better part of June reinforcing the Machhi Bhawan, the British ultimately decided to blow it up.

“On the 1st July, the whole force at the Muchee Bawan was withdrawn into the Residency, and this affair was arranged uncommonly well. The ammunition was all collected in one place, the guns were spiked and damaged as much as circumstances would permit; and at a given signal (at midnight), the force marched out, whilst a slow match, attached to a train leading to the magazine, was lighted. Just as our men reached the Residency, a magnificent explosion took place, and Muchee Bawan was instantly in ruins.” 2

Machhi Bhawan photographed in 1858

At the beginning of the siege, the inhabitants within the Residency numbered 2’994 persons, of which 1720 were officers, British and Indian troops, and civilian volunteers. 237 women, 260 children, 50 boys from the Martiniere College, 27 non-combatant Europeans and 700 non-combatant Indians made up the rest. Of the original garrison, on the 17th of November, not more than 930 were left.

2nd July – Sir Henry Lawrence mortally wounded.

“..Sir Henry had had his thigh broken by a shell from the howitzer we lost at Chinhut, and was not expected to live…It appears that, before the shell which proved so fatal, another had been pitched into his apartment, raising a cloud of dust, and his staff had begged him to shift his quarters; but he had answered, in his cheery way, that sailors always consider the safest place in a ship to be that where the shot had last made a hole, and he did not think it likely that such another good aim would be made. But the event proved otherwise. Another shell came pitched precisely as the first, and this time the effect was fatal, and Sir Henry mortally wounded. He was carried to Dr. Fayrer’s house; the wound was in the thigh too high up to allow of amputation, and all that could be done was to give narcotics to ease the pain.” 3

He appointed Brigadier Inglis in charge of military command and Major Banks took on the position of Chief Commissioner. Upon Banks’ death, the position was passed on to Brigadier Inglis.

4th July –Death of Sir Henry Lawrence

7th July – Sortie against Johannes’ House.

Johannes was an Armenian merchant whose house boarded the walls of the Residency on the southern side. As the house was very close to the wall it was ideal for the tunnelling of mines and for sniper fire.

 “A sally was made this morning by the light company 32nd and some Sikhs, under Captain Lawrence and Captain Mansfield, Mr. Green, 13th N.I., and Mr. Studdy, the latter leading the sortie. The object was to search a house outside our position, called Johannes House, where the enemy was supposed to be mining. A hole was made in the wall large enough to admit of one man getting out at a time, and we kept up heavy cannonading during the process to hide the sound and to divert the enemy’s attention. The party started at twelve o’clock, after the men had had some dinner, and John had said a few words to them. I felt very sad as they passed through our courtyard, for I thought perhaps few would return. However, in a quarter of an hour, or less, their work was done. They rushed into Johannes House. Ensign Studdy being the first to go through the wall, bayoneted some thirty men they found there, and then, reckless as soldiers are, were running down the Cawnpore road, when John called them back.” 4

The house was completely destroyed on the 17th of August.

20th July – first large scale assault on the Residency. This was also the start of the mining operations which were to continue until the end of the siege. In all there were 37 mines between this date and the 25th of September, of which only one was successful.

“Early this morning, all were on the alert, as the officer on the look-out tower of the Residency house reported that the enemy was moving in large masses and evidently assembling for a vigorous attack. Every man was at his post… Suddenly we heard a sound that had never greeted our ears before, like a gun being fired off under our feet. John immediately rushed out, knowing it was the explosion of a mine. That was the signal for an attack, and fierce musketry firing commenced on both sides. The noise was terrific, and that of heavy cannonading and whizzing shells was soon added. The enemy were completely repulsed with great loss. They advanced very bravely at first. Captain Birch says that the mine exploded in the direction of the Redan battery, leaving an enormous crater. Innes’ house bore the brunt of the attack, and gallantly repulsed it under Mr. Loughman, 13th N.I. On the opposite side of our position an attack was also made on the Cawnpore battery. The enemy advanced boldly, and left a scaling-ladder inside the ditch; but their hearts failed them, and the hand grenades with which they were saluted quickly drove them away…It was the severest assault the enemy had yet made, and John said the bullets fell like hail. I was speaking to a 32nd man to-day, and saying how foolish it was of the men to expose themselves as they did, when there were the trenches to protect them. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but it’s not in the way of Englishmen to fight behind walls.” 5

l0th August – the second large assault on the Residency position.

11th August – Part of the Residency building caves in.

12th August – Following a severe cannonade, the Cawnpore Battery becomes untenable.

l7th August – Johannes House destroyed.

18th August – Third assault. A rebel mine detonates successfully directed at the Sikh Square

4th September – Fourth assault.

23rd September –Havelock and Outram’s battle of the Alambagh.

24th September – First Relief.  

A running fight began at the Alambagh, which ended with the seizure of the Char Bridge, held by the 78th Highlanders. The planned route had been to go along the canal as far the Bilkisha Road, to Sikandra Bagh and then to the Moti Mahal. However, the 78th lost their way and came down Hazratganj instead while the rest of the column was already at the Chattar Manzil. Only by forcing their way through the lanes and the Sher Daiwaza, and then through Khas Bazar did the 78th and the rest reach Bailly Guard Gate, but it was tough fight and the losses were large.

26th September – 2nd Defence.

Initially, Generals Havelock and Outram when they reached the Residency with their forces had intended to evacuate the women and the children, the sick and the wounded to Kanpur. But it proved impossible – the relief force had lost one fifth of its strength just getting there, thus lacking the manpower to provide protection to a retreating garrison. The plan was abandoned and the generals determined to remain in the Residency. They were able to fortify the position and extend the outer lines but from the 27th of September, the siege continued.

November 9th – Sir Colin Campbell left Kanpur and joined the troops under the command of Brigadier-General Grant Hope at camp 9 miles from Alambagh. As there were still some detachments on the road, Sir Colin delayed the departure of the force until the 12th of November.

It is necessary to mention that the British in the Residency were made aware of both relief forces by utilising a network of spies, particularly one, named Ungud, an Indian pensioner, did excellent work, carrying messages between the garrison and the marching forces. Later they would also make use of a semaphore.

When it became clear that Sir Colin was approaching it was necessary to send him plans of the city and suggestions for the route he should take through it to get to the Residency.  Included in the documents was the code of signals for communication with the semaphore. Mr. T.H. Kavanagh, a civilian with the Uncovenanted Services volunteered to take the documents to the Campbell’s camp at Banthra. Disguised as a native and led by an Indian spy named Kanauji Lal, Kavanagh set out at night on the 9th of November – it went more or less to plan, with both Kavanagh and Lal narrowly avoiding capture, getting lost and of all things, receiving directions from a squad of sepoys!  They arrived at the camp early the following morning on the 10th of November.

12th November – 2nd Relief operations – Advance to the Alambagh

Campbell set out with a formidable force, about 5’000 strong, including 700 cavalry and 30 pieces of cannon. The arsenal consisted of 8 heavy guns (24-pounders and 8-inch howitzers) and two rocket tubes mounted on carts. These were manned by the Naval Brigade which consisted of 250 men of the crew of the Shannon.

From the Alambagh, Campbell could directly communicate with the Residency by means of a semaphore erected on top of the building.

14th November – Advised to avoid the city at all costs, Campbell’s route was subsequently not very direct and entailed much bitter fighting. They proceeded first eastwards, taking the Dilkusha Palace and the Martiniere College. Both positions were occupied. They erected another semaphore on top of the Martiniere, thus ensuring an unbroken line of communication.

16th November – Storm of the Sikandra Bagh, Shah Najaf, Kadam Rasul ; storm of the Hiran Khana by the defenders.  Attack on the Kurshid Manzil

17th November – Kurshid Manzil taken. Meeting of Outram, Havelock and Campbell at Kurshid Manzil.

The British now held important positions between the Dilkusha Palace and the Residency. The fight was by no means over but it had secured a passage way of sorts and Colin Campbell did the only thing possible – he ordered retreat. Just getting to the Residency had cost him 45 officers and 496 men and by abandoning the position he not only saved his forces from becoming trapped in the grounds as Havelock had, he broke the siege, rescuing the garrison from yet another prolonged fight.

They were not out of the woods yet and could not leave the garrison all at once – the retreat was carried out over a space of a few days, from the 19th of November to the 22nd.
The rebels would not discover until the following morning – the 23rd – that the Residency had been abandoned and the British were gone. The siege ended, not as a victory but more as a truce.  For the rebels it had proved impossible to throw the British out and when they left, no one outside the walls saw them go.  The sick and wounded were the first to leave, followed by the women and the children and then by the rest of the garrison on the on the 22nd. The siege did not end with a slaughter as Rees had feared. He writes:

“It was twelve o’clock at night on the 22nd of November when we finally prepared to evacuate. The lights were left burning and we stole out as quietly and silently as possible the enemy keeping up the usual desultory fire of matchlocks and musketry.” 6

Whatever guns they could not take were spiked and the ammunition destroyed. Very little of value was left behind.

The Cawnpore Road as seen from the Cawnpore Battery, 1858.

1. History of Lucknow -A.T. Anderson (1913)
2. A Personal Journal of the Siege of Lucknow – Captain R.P. Anderson (1858)
3,4. The Siege of Lucknow, A Diary – The Honorable Lady Inglis (1892)
5. Mutiny Records Awadh and Lucknow, (1857-1859) –Edward Hilton (1913)
6. Personal Narrative of the Siege of Lucknow – L.E. Ruutz Rees (1858)