In the previous chapter we have established what the military portion of the Meerut cantonment was doing. We now continue the story with light on what else was happening in the calamitous city.
Church on Sunday
“Oh madam, don’t go to church this afternoon!” This was the first intimation the wife of Reverend John Rotton heard from her ayah. It was an impassioned plea which caused the Reverend to take at least a little notice.
Why should madam not go to church this evening?” I asked. The servant replied,” Because there will be a fight.” I asked, “Who will fight?” The woman answered, “The sepoys.” Of course, I could not give any credence to such a statement. In the next few hours, the Reverend would discover just how wrong he was.
To allay his wife’s fears, he consented at least to take the children along in the carriage and just for good measure, he armed himself with a stout walking stick. He didn’t own any fire-arms. The faithful ayah accompanied them.
The church service, owing to the heat of May had been postponed to the slightly cooler hour of 7 pm instead of 6.30. The morning service had been well attended, the Greatheds had come, as had Gough and young MacNabb. Colonel Finnis, Bible in hand had stoically walked up the aisle and had taken his place in the front. Little did the Reverend know that by the next day, he would be burying some of his friends.
Setting out for the church and completely unware that anything at all was amiss – the church is located well on the end of the European lines – he suddenly heard musket fire and became uncomfortably aware of “pillars of smoke ascending into the air, and proceeding from the burning bungalows….in the native lines of cantonment, forced upon me the conviction that mischief had already commenced.” Without warning, the Rifle bugles sounded the alarm and in quick succession, assembly. It quickly became apparent that there was something terribly wrong in Meerut. The congregation, which was slowly assembling outside the building was quickly dissolved and everyone made their way to safety as best they could.
The Church COnspiracy
It is generally believed that the Mutiny at Meerut was the start of a wider conspiracy to overthrow British rule in India and it is almost, without any argument supposed that the idea of the sepoys had been to round up all the Europeans in the church and then slaughter them en masse when thus assembled. Troops did not attend church with their muskets and only carried their sidearms with them so it would have been a relatively simple task. Churches would later be attacked in the scope of the mutiny with varying degrees of success, but this was Meerut and nothing as yet had happened anywhere else.
Normally, service would have begun at 6.30 which means the troops would have fallen in at 6 pm. However this evening, everything would have happened 30 minutes later. The sepoys, if they were going to attack the church would have done so at the regular time. If the plan had been from the very onset to attack the Europeans at the church, then the mutiny started an hour earlier than expected. It is not a plan that stands up to scrutiny. Nor does the location of the church bear up with a plan of conspiracy. This tale, which in time became accepted fact, gave the authorities the perfect excuse – if it was a conspiracy, then their previous actions – the shackling parade, for example, could not be used as a reason for the mutiny in the first place. So the story remained in circulation. When we take the actions of the sepoys into consideration – the mad panic, the frantic behaviour, the wild rush to arms – they do not look like men wholly in charge of their senses, let alone ones who have been diabolically planning a conspiracy.
Yet whatever the truth may be, nothing happened at the church in Meerut.
This photograph was taken close to the time of the colonel’s death in 1909 – nearly 50 years had passed since he had served with the 60th Rifles in Meerut and 55 years since his marriage to his wife. Yet this was all in the future, for now, Mrs. Muter is sitting in her buggy as her husband, then Captain Muter, went off to parade his men for church at 6.30pm. She was waiting outside the door, expecting any minute to hear the soldiers marching up from the Infantry Barracks – but there was no sound of tramping boots. Instead, she heard, “…a dull sound, very different from what I expected…but I little heeded the holiday making in the bazaar…” Without warning, but minding his manners, a gentleman came up to Mrs. Muter, “You need not be alarmed but an outbreak has taken place requiring the presence of the troops, so there will not be a service in the church this evening.” Mrs. Muter huffed a little – surely, a little holiday making would not stop divine service! She decided to wait a little longer.
By 7, no congregation had assembled and she finally decided to ask the same gentleman if he would send word to her husband. What he thought of this we don’t know but he advised Mrs. Muter to go home. Telling her driver to turn the pony carriage around, “Up to this, I was seated with my back to the cantonment but the moment the horses’ heads were turned I saw the Native lines in a blaze and in some alarm…I gave the order to hasten home.” It was nearly dark and as she entered the road leading to the bazaar – she saw a crowd of men chasing 2 soldiers of the European Artillery, pelting them with stones and brickbats. Fortunately, no one paid any mind to the captain’s wife and she managed to get to the house.
Inside, her servants were in a panic – the butler brought her the silver, saying he could no longer bear the responsibility of her property and then declared she must hide herself! Mrs. Muter could hardly conceal her outrage. To hide, in her own house in the very lines of a regiment that had until now been nothing but staunch? It was nothing short of insulting. But she could now distinctly hear “the distant roar rolled up in a babel of voices nearly drowning the ceaseless rattle of musketry and above all came the heavy tramp of an English battalion on the march…”
Saving her from any more personal insult (hide, indeed!) a sergeant sent by Mrs. Muter’s husband arrived to direct her to find refuge in the Quarter Guard. Escorted by her servants with their swords drawn, Mrs. Muter walked away from the mutiny in Meerut. She spent the rest of the night on the veranda at Dumdhama watching the cantonment burn.
Around the same time as Mrs. Muter was indignantly waiting for church service to begin, Mrs. Craigie and Miss Mackenzie had set out in their buggy with the same idea in mind. Lieutenant Craigie was busy with his men and Lieutenant Mackenzie was savouring a moment’s peace, reading a book. His house guest, Cornet McNabb was out visiting friends so he had the place for himself.
The ladies were blissfully unaware of anything happening in Meerut but their well-trodden ride to the church was suddenly disrupted by the sight of a mob approaching. The terrified coachman swiftly turned the horses around – the intention was to hurry back to Craigie’s house. In their haste, they managed to pick up a soldier of the 6th Dragoon Guards who came tearing out of a side lane hotly pursued by rioters from the bazaar. The ladies ordered the driver to stop – just long enough to pull in the soldier and then drive off again at full speed, the crowd slashing at the hood of the carriage with their tulwars.
Safely back in Craigie’s house with the Dragoon Guard prostrate and in a state of nervous collapse, the ladies tried to do something, anything. They gathered up all of Craigie’s weapons – three double-barrelled guns – and powder flask, bullets and caps, and then, not knowing how to load them, sat and waited. It was here that Mackenzie found them.
He did not come alone. With a dozen faithful men in tow, he arrived at the bungalow. His first instinct now was to preserve the ladies’ lives by any means possible. He brought the ladies down “to the door of the house, and calling to me the troopers, commended their lives to their charge…Like madmen, they threw themselves from their horses and prostrated themselves before the ladies, seizing their feet and placing them on their heads, as they vowed with tears and sobs to protect their lives with their own.” Reassured that the men were genuine in their faithfulness, he set them to patrol the grounds, while he went upstairs to load the guns. One of the guns he set aside – if there would be no way out, he could at least still shoot his sister and his friend’s wife.
More than once the house was approached by crowds from the bazaar and Mackenzie had to stand on the upper veranda, gun ready. It seemed to be enough to send the looters in a different direction.
This state of affairs could not last and Mackenzie finally decided that retreat was a better option. A small Hindu shrine on the grounds would be easier to defend than a whole rambling house so he determined now to make their last stand there. After all, it might not even come to that. The cantonment was full of European troops – surely they were on their way.
Lieutenant Craigie by now had realised that no amount of remonstrations would force his men to change their minds – he had already retreated to the European lines with the vague hope he would find his wife there, safe and sound. But she wasn’t and the Mackenzies were missing too. So for what might have been a mission of futility, he mounted his horse and dashed back to his own house, accompanied by a few faithful men who had never left him, expecting to find the worst.
It was with some amazement then that he found the two women, the half-crazed Dragoon Guard and his friend, ready to make their flight to the shrine. The ladies were told to collect what little of their valuables they could carry, and waiting for an opportune moment, the little group ran across the grounds to the shrine.
Once inside, it dawned on them that it was a very small space indeed, barely ten feet square but it had slits in the walls like loopholes and the doorway was very narrow, so as a place of defence it was quite commendable. Every now and again, the troopers came and told the officers of the state of things on the outside – if only finally to report that the whole body of mutineers had left Meerut and was on their way to Delhi. All those who remained were the plunderers from the bazaar and the neighbouring countryside. Hour after hour passed and there was still no sign of European troops coming to save the city. In fact, they weren’t coming at all.
A force, some 1500 strong, was idly standing by in the European lines, waiting in vainly for an order – any order – to come from their completely paralyzed leadership. Hewitt, in a moment of masterly inactivity, circled the wagons so to speak and let the city burn. No one followed the mutineers into the night as they marched towards Delhi or stopped the looters and plunders. A mounted party had been sent to look for survivors but led by a Staff Officer who obviously didn’t have any idea what he was doing, they ended up marching into the dark, in the wrong direction. At some point during the night, Wilson and Hewitt moved the troops onto the infantry parade ground and allowed them to let off some shots – though the only thing they nearly managed to hit was a furious Lieutenant Galway who had earlier taken refuge in some outhouses which were now in their line of fire.
By this time, Captain Rosser of the 6th Dragoon Guards was practically gagging at the bit to be allowed to do something. He assembled a small force – just a squadron and a couple of guns – and requested to be allowed to go in pursuit of the mutineers. Three times his request was denied. In fact, everyone was ready. But the General decided to sit out the fight. Only a small group of Carbineers were ever sent out into Meerut to pick up stragglers and survivors.
Around midnight things were quieting down and Mackenzie, after conferring with Craigie decided it was high time they leave their little shrine. Harnessing Craigie’s horses to a carriage and placing the ladies and the Carbineer inside – the carriage was driven by a boy who usually rode postillion, and was now riding on one of the horses – Craigie and Mackenzie took their guard on either side of the carriage riding alongside with swords drawn. They first rode through a group of men who were gathered on the road and then made for the European lines. Besides the men that had barred the road, they saw no one. Not until they saw the light of a portfire – which induced the two men to gallop forward, shouting “Friend! Friend!” did they realise they had made it to safety.
Mrs. Cahill and Mrs. Emma Markoe are the last ladies we shall see for now. They were not military wives nor regular civilian ladies. Mrs. Markoe was the wife of a pensioner and Mrs. Cahill was a widow who lived in Mrs. Markoe’s compound. They lived close to Lieutenant Eckford and Dr. Smith, towards the northern end of Sudder Bazaar. It was nearly dusk when a wounded rifleman made his way to the house of the Markoes. He, like others, was fleeing the mobs in the bazaar. The couple took him in. Unfortunately, the mob was not so easily dissuaded and broke into their house, determined to kill the fugitive. They began harassing Emma Markoe demanding to be shown where the rifleman was – when she screamed, her husband came rushing out of a side door with a stick in his hand – the crowd scrambled out of his way. Emma and her husband managed to lock the compound gates, but both were cut with swords in the process. They returned to the house, battered and bleeding. Emma Markoe convinced her husband and the rifleman to escape through a window before the crowd could return but it was too late. No sooner had they scrambled through the opening, the mob burst into the bedroom and proceeded to beat Mrs. Markoe with sticks demanding again to know where the feringhees were hiding. When she lost consciousness, they went off to plunder her house.
“I opened my eyes and saw the mob plundering my house, on their leaving the bedroom, I took the opportunity of getting out of the window, I could hardly walk, but went in search of my poor husband, and in the garden…I found his body, he had one leg hanging over the wall, as if he tried to get over, when killed by a severe sword cut, nearly dividing his neck..”
Mrs. Cahill did not fare any better. Wounded by numerous sword cuts as the mob, in turn, plundered her house, she was finally helped over the wall by a blacksmith who lived close by. He hid her and Mrs. Markoe in his house until they could make their way to the European lines.
Others were not so lucky.
We left Mrs. Macdonald at home as her husband was buckling on his sword, – he ordered her to go to the house of Mrs. Chambers as he went to his lines with Captain Chambers. For some reason, known only to her, Mrs. Macdonald never left her house. Before she could prepare herself and her three children for this quick flight she received news her husband had been shot by his own men. By now it was too late to go anywhere – a large crowd was gathering on the road, and they had set fire to the bungalow.
The ayah and the washerman (dhobi) sprang into action, deftly hiding the family in the water carrier’s hut. Meanwhile, the chowkidar, seeing his employment was not worth sacrificing his life for, decided it was time to flee – but he could be persuaded to take the Macdonalds along. Dressed as natives with Mrs. Macdonald’s covered in a burka, the small group set off. Getting out onto the road, they were stopped by a crowd. Asked who she was, the chowkidar tried to explain she was his sister-in-law but the ruse fell through. Her burka was ripped off and Mrs. Macdonald was slain.
As Captain Earle would later write she “…was so much disfigured from the cuts about her face, that although I had known her intimately for upwards of nine years, I did not recognise her.” The servants, however, were able to save the children and deliver them up to the European lines. They were later sent to England to be cared for by relatives.
Mrs. Charlotte Chambers was said to have been the belle of Meerut. Just 23 and married to Captain Richard Wellesley Chambers she was eight months pregnant with her first child. They had married in Wazirabad in 1854 and had only recently arrived in Meerut with the 11th BNI. Their house was located just opposite the Craigies. Unlike Mrs. Macdonald who didn’t act on what her husband said, Mrs. Chambers didn’t have the chance to act at all.
Mrs. Craigie and Miss Mackenzie, as they stood on the first floor of her house anxiously waiting for her husband or indeed anyone to come, she recalled seeing Mrs. Chambers.
“Bungalows began to blaze round us, nearer and nearer, till the frenzied mob reached that next to our own! We saw a poor lady on the verandah, a Mrs. Chambers, (lately arrived). We bade the servants bring her over the low wall to us, but they were too confused to attend to me at first. The stables of that house were first burnt. We heard the shrieks of the horses. Then came the mob to the house itself, with awful shouts and curses. We heard the doors broken in, and many many shots, and at that moment my servants said they had been to bring away Mrs. Chambers, but had found her dead on the ground, cut horribly, and she on the eve of her confinement!”
Mrs. Chambers’ husband did not come for her. Instead, Lieutenant Le Champion Möller tried to save her. He was riding across the parade ground near the lines of the 3rd LC when “I had almost reached the house of Mrs. Chambers, then in her verandah, and looking at me, when five or six Native troopers spread out to cut me off and forced me back.”
The next day, her husband found her. Charlotte had had her throat cut and her baby had been ripped from her body and placed on his mother’s chest. Evidently, a butcher whom she had recently reprimanded for selling her bad meat had taken his revenge. Lieutenant Möller found the man in the coming days and had him hung. Charlotte and her baby lie buried in Meerut cemetery.
Close by, Veterinary Surgeon Dawson and his wife were sick with smallpox. Aroused from his sickbed by the noise from the streets, Dawson went out onto the verandah with his gun and fired at the coming mob. It was only a momentary respite as seconds later, he himself was shot. As for his wife, the mob -upon realising what contagion she had – threw torches at her until her nightdress caught fire and she burned to death.
In the town, Mrs. Courtney, wife of the hotel proprietor had had an idea to get to safety and ordered her coachman to drive her to the city, her two children by her side. However, a crowd barred their way so she now ordered him to drive her to the Deputy Collector’s house which entailed driving through the Sudder Bazar. Pursued by the mob, they only managed to get to the house by the intervention of some men of the 3rd LC who held off the crowd long enough for her to reach the gates. The Muhammadan jamadar refused to open them – the coachman was knocked off his box by the mob and Mrs. Courtney, with her children, was killed.
In the lines of the 3rd LC, the seven-year-old daughter of Riding-Master Langdale was killed as she lay sleeping on a charpoy outside – this story was much exaggerated in later accounts but in actuality, though no less sad, her death was swift with a single sabre cut. It is unclear what threat a sleeping little girl posed to a cavalryman.
Elsewhere, the dithering of the commanders up in the European lines continued to cost lives. Wilson refused to let the Carbineers and the Artillery move any further than the Rifles Parade Ground. Had they been allowed to advance, and had been able to thus to secure the area between the Dragoon Bridge and Sudder Bazaar it might have been enough to push back the crowds or even frighten them away. But his unwillingness to act or to let others like Colonel Custance to act in his stead meant that McNabb, Taylor and Dr. Smith were served up to the mob. And the houses situated between the bazaar and the Abu Nullah were left open to plunder.
The houses of Lieutenant Eckford, Executive Engineer at Meerut and that of Doctor Smith of the Veterinary Establishment were located side by side near the north end of Sudder Bazaar. Eckford heard the sounds of musket fire and the growing din from the lines around 6pm and watched with trepidation as crowds began gathering in the bazaar and saw Europeans fleeing in any manner of conveyance to the European lines. With him was an old pensioner named Joseph Chapman who was probably employed for office work by Eckford. It was Chapman who had come to him with the news that he had seen four Riflemen killed in the bazaar, not far from his own house. An hour later, the house of Dr. Smith was set on fire – by which time the doctor was already dead. Now the crowd turned their attention to the lieutenant and the pensioner, recently joined by a rifleman named Fitzpatrick, seeking shelter from the mobs. Eckford acted. He sent his wife, children and sister to the servants’ quarters, gave Fitzpatrick a gun and armed the pensioner with a spear. He then locked all the doors, closed the shutters and retreated to the portico upstairs.
“I saw an immense number of men, sepoys, troopers and bazaar people, (in all at least 4 or 5 hundred) moving quickly towards the house. Whenever they saw me, they aimed at me with their muskets but not a shot struck me.”
Disheartened but not yet defeated, the three men prepared to defend themselves – except another crowd whom they hadn’t seen, entered from the back of the house and forced their way in. Alerted by the loud crash of smashed doors, Eckford ran downstairs and in the dining room he found himself suddenly confronted by fifteen armed men.
“I had a double-barrelled pistol in each hand. I gave a shout and dashed at them. The room was rather badly lighted I knew and went at them, fired my right pistol (one barrel after the other) at the men on the right (each ball must have told in some way on them). They all, with one exception, turned and scrambled out. The man who remained – a trooper of the 3rd Cavalry by his dress – came at me. About 4 or 5 paces distant I let him have one of the left pistol barrels (he must have been very hard hit) – the other would not go off (The body of this man was afterwards dragged out by his friends from the burning house – my servants told me). He almost simultaneously gave me a severe gash across the head with his sabre. I attempted to close with him and we struggled for a few seconds – in which time I smashed my pistol on his head – a heavy blow for it broke the trigger guard and the swivel ramrod of the pistol which was found the next day. He in return gave me sundry wounds and sabre cuts.”
Saved by the timely appearance of Fitzpatrick, who dragged Eckford out of the room and back up to the flat roof of the upstairs portico leaving the wounded sowar to stagger off. Fitzpatrick left Eckford where he was, promising to get help as he was determined to flee before the house was completely surrounded. Giving Fitzpatrick his double-barrelled gun, Eckford heard several shots fired from downstairs and shouts and then nothing. With his wounds bleeding profusely, unable to move and expecting any minute to be attacked by the mob, Eckford didn’t realise that for a moment he was safe. He was under the shade of a large tree and the mob as they carefully came up the stairs, did not see him. Missing him on the portico, they cautiously continued to the house roof but thought better of it. Perhaps the bloodied up sowar had given them something to think about. Instead, they retreated downstairs and set fire to the house.
Realising he had to move or be burned alive, Eckford managed to drag himself down onto a veranda where he lost consciousness, only coming to when he realised the flames were scorching his body. Crawling along, he managed to get to the garden where his servant would later find him. The crowd dispersed as the building was so nearly consumed by flames they presumed no one could be alive. Eckford was reunited with his unharmed family and with Joseph Chapman (who had fled to a gardener’s shed for safety). Chapman would later find his own wife alive.
Carried in a litter to the European lines, Eckford survived his 6 wounds but never recovered his health dying in 1872. As for Fitzpatrick, his naked body was found the next day on the road behind the Eckford’s house. He had not even managed to take the rifle over the wall.
The dinner guests of Carmichael-Smyth who had set out in a buggy shortly after the judge was sent on the road, did not fare any better. Philipps was shot dead and Christie so badly injured by a sword cut to the face, he was disfigured for life. Deputy Judge Advocate General Major Harriott escaped.
Not at Home – the Loyalty of Servants
Unbeknownst to Carmichael-Smyth and Hugh Gough as they banged away at the door of the Greathed’s bungalow, is Elisa and Hervey not only heard their friends but saw them as well. Safely ensconced on the roof by the servants who had dissuaded the couple from going to church, they waited with trepidation for events to unravel. Anyone who came to ask was firmly told the Greatheds were not at home and any entrance to the house was promptly barred. All around the bungalow screaming mobs tore their way through the neighbourhood, setting fire to some houses and wantonly destroying all of them. It was not long before the mob smashed open the Greatheds doors and drove off the servants. Although the mob was calling for Hervey as they plundered his house, no one ventured upstairs. By and by, the house was set on fire.
Seeing the situation was becoming intolerable, their faithful servant ran up to the mob and declared himself one of them. The plan was to draw them away so his employer could escape – he quickly told the mob that the house was indeed empty but the feringhees were hiding in a haystack near the house. While so engaged, the Greatheds and 2 English women quickly scrambled off the roof and rushed through the burning house. A few minutes later, as the roof crashed in behind them, they sat concealed in the garden, carefully kept out of sight under a tree with Mr. Greathed standing watch, a loaded pistol at the ready. As dawn approached and the crowds finally disappeared, the party made their way safely to the dragoon lines. Their servants had also survived.
As mentioned before, it was a blisteringly hot Sunday in the month of May, when India gasps, waiting for the rains. The temperatures indoors as without, soar to unbearable heights and any wind that chances to blow is hot enough to scour the skin. It was no surprise then, trying to escape the stuffy barrack rooms and endless hours of boredom staring at the ceiling watching the punkhas lazily moving in the heated haze, many European soldiers sought a little respite in the Sudder Bazaar.
Initially, even after the first outcry the bazaar remained quiet. The British soldiers continued wandering about in groups of two and three, others made their way to the “pop shop” where they could at least get a cold drink of ginger beer. Suddenly, everything changed and the mood became hostile, as if somewhere a switch had been flipped. The sepoys had begun rioting in their lines and it did not take long for the people in the bazaar to catch the panic. Initially, the British were unsure what was happening – they heard cries in the distance of fire -and thinking something was going up in flames, they didn’t at first understand what it meant. When a trooper of the 3rd LC rode up and rather surprisingly told the men they really should get out of the bazaar, did they realise something was up.
At first many of the men ran towards the local police station, still not aware that the danger was not just from the bazaar people but from the sepoys themselves. It was manned by a guard of sepoys – who, instead of giving the Europeans protection from an increasing volatile crowd, fired at them.
Turning away from the police station, the British found they were vastly outnumbered by a quickly formed mob and being unarmed, they only had one choice – to run through the crowd. Some darted down side roads, others charged straight ahead, pelted by stones and beaten with sticks. Gunner McCartney was one of those who made it through the cavalcade of brickbats but two of his companions were killed, hacked to pieces by the bazaar crowd.
It was this that the men were running from – some were picked up by quick-thinking people like Mrs. Craigie, others ran from pillar to post, hiding in different houses or setting out as best as they could back to their lines.
Not only was the rage of the mob directed at the European soldiers in their midst. Eurasians were also a target as were Bengalis who worked for the British as clerks and writers. The crowds themselves were not strictly just bad elements from the bazaar. They were everyone who had a grudge, and anyone else who was infected by fury. Tradesmen, artisans, labourers, butchers, cooks, tanners and house servants all took a part in the rioting and destruction, as did greengrocers, fishermen and watchmen. Later, elements from the outlying villages and notoriously difficult Gujurs joined in as did the prisoners from the now opened jail. Before long, it had gone from being just a mutiny of the sepoys to a full-scale urban riot. Not just the British bungalows were plundered – everything was fair game in this increasingly lawless situation – local butchers stole cattle, and poor Muslims turned on the Hindu moneylenders, plundering their shops. Whereas many of the wealthier inhabitants of Meerut did not take part in the mob violence, they still shut their doors tightly against everyone else – it was also a time when people could finally settle old scores.
Until now, the notion that had started all of this was that the Europeans were coming. Coming to take the sepoys’ guns, coming to put them in fetters and send them to jail. Indeed, as the rioting got worse, some people could almost believe the Europeans had come and this was the result.
But they never came. And by morning, all that was left of much of Meerut was smouldering in ruins.
The Law family were blissfully unaware that anything at all was wrong in Meerut on the 10th of May. They were also among the last to be attacked that night. Their house was situated in the unoccupied Sappers and Miners lines, somewhat behind and to the south-west of the Artillery lines. At 10 pm, they were getting ready to go to bed when the rioters found their way to this side of the cantonment. They were the only people living in these lines – and could not have been more surprised when a large armed crowd burst into their house. As they surrounded her husband, Mrs. Law managed to get away with her infant son but she had to leave behind not just her husband but three other children.
“As I was escaping, two men, both chuprassies in Government employ, one the son of the man who supplied us with milk and butter, and the other, chowkeedar of the school, debated about killing me, the first man said, they had got quite enough in the house and was for allowing me to escape, but the other, who had on a red turban, was for killing me.” Eventually they decided to let her go, but she ran into the next crowd. Severely beaten with wounds to her head and a sword cut in the arm, Mrs. Law and her baby were found the next day by Sergeant Foster. Of her husband and children, only a young son survived his injuries.
What happened in the European lines as the destruction of Meerut was being carried out, amounted to nothing. The Carabineers were the first to be ready to move out but a very long roll-call carried out by the non-commissioned officers on the several troops took a lot of time. After all, it was Sunday evening and many men could be away from the lines. So it was essentially correct to call the roll but then they had to wait for a staff officer. Thirty or so of them struck out on their own to go and look for any survivors in the cantonment but they were immediately ordered back.
It is true that the native troops stationed in the European lines had to be disarmed and this of course did not go down very well with them, with many putting up a heated resistance. But outnumbered as they were, their fights ended swiftly. The treasury was secured without as much as a shot being fired.
The 60th Rifles and the artillery were slow in getting started and when they finally did, their officers chose a circuitous route around Meerut, avoiding the narrow streets and lanes of the bazaar. The Carbineers had been told off to go to the new jail but the order was countermanded and they had to re-join the other troops.
It was well after 8pm when the British forces finally assembled on the native parade ground, in front of where the lines of the 11th had once stood, now for more than a mile, three rows of bungalows were burning. Something was moving in the shadows – what exactly no one could see, but they fired at it anyway. Perhaps it was just ghosts of their wearied imaginations.
The column now moved again, making its way east and then swinging up back towards the European lines, collecting the bodies of some of the dead they found on the way. They found Cornett McNabb, and Captain Taylor whose head was smashed in by an iron bar. MacNabb was so severely disfigured he could only be identified by the recognisably wrong braid he had used on his uniform that morning. They found a few Europeans alive and hiding, the three men in Carmichael-Smyth’s backyard ran out to join them.
As such, wrote Ensign Philipps, General Hewitt and Brigadier General Wilson “seemed quite mortally paralysed, and for three mortal hours, kept marching the Carabineers, Rifles and Artillery backwards and forwards well to the rear of the fire. At last when we did reach the lines, not a sepoy was to be found.”
Lieutenant Möller repeatedly asked if he could ride out and warn Delhi – he had heard on his own ride back from the lines earlier that the sepoys were intending to head in that general direction. Hewitt told him to ask Wilson and Wilson made sure he was not to be found. The senior officers continued to procrastinate through the night and in the meantime, Delhi slept on, unaware that the 11th of May would be their nemesis.
It was Möller again who told Hewitt the next day that the sepoys had in all actuality really left Meerut – but Hewitt scoffed. As events would show, the British remained hiding in the European lines and more precisely in the ammunition depot of the lines for another three weeks before any of the commanders would venture out and then only to write a short report,
“The fort (Dumdumma) and treasury are safe, and the troops are ready for any attack.”
This was little comfort to the relatives of the 50 people who died in the rioting in Meerut and certainly none at all for the stations that would continue to feel the repercussions of the “masterly inactivity” of the best regimented cantonment in the presidency. Perhaps Hewitt and Wilson could not have prevented the mutiny with the resources at their disposal, but they certainly did not die trying.
Counting the Dead
How many people were actually killed in Meerut is unknown. Many, on account of the horrific injuries, could not be identified with any accuracy. The Reverend Rotton, who must have buried them, puts the number closer to 30 but those would only be the ones he himself saw. In official lists, private soldiers, non-commissioned officers, Europeans and Eurasians who fell out of the normal scope of what was considered “regular” society (pensioners, clerks and humble office peons) were rarely named. Depositions taken months after showed the number was much higher.
Captain Macdonald and wife
Veterinary Surgeon Phillips
Veterinary Surgeon Dawson, and wife
Mrs. Chambers and baby
Daughter of the riding-master
Mr. V. Tregear
Mrs. Courtney and 2 children
Sergeant Law and 2 children
Eleven unnamed victims
The native population of Meerut who were killed on the 10th of May remain unnamed.
“The Great Fear of 1857” Kim A. Wagner, 2010
Old Memories” Hugh Gough, 1897
“Letters Written During the Siege of Delhi” H.H. Greathed, 1858
“The Chaplains Narrative of the Siege of Delhi from the Outbreak at Meerut to the Capture of Delhi” J.E.W. Rotton, 1858
“The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857,”J.A.B. Palmer, 1966
“Mutiny Memoirs, being the Personal Reminiscences of the Great Sepoy Revolt of 1857″ Col. A.R.D. Mackenzie, Hon. A.D.C to the Viceroy, 1892
“My Recollections of the Sepoy Revolt (1857-58 )” Mrs. E. Muter, 1911
“On the topography of Meerutt, and the principal diseases which prevailed in the 1st brigade of Horse Artillery at that place” John Murray 1839
Images of modern Meerut in the gallery: http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/the-great-upsurge-of-1857-historical-sites-in-meerut-cantonment/
The rest of the photographs were generously given to me through friends and through my own research endeavours, ensuring there is no copyright infringement.
The maps used are based on the one provided in Mrs. Muter’s book and in that of Mr. Palmer. The addition of the place names in the version provided in this article has been researched by myself and thus defined to the best of my abilities in terms of accuracy.