The continued story of Meerut

In order to understand what happened in Meerut, it is important to be aware how critical the factor of time is in these events. In the previous post we have been making our way through weeks – now we shall be propelled into the 10th of May 1857 and see what can happen in a few hours.

The Cantonment of Meerut in 1857

To give my readers a basic idea of the lay out of Meerut, I have attached here a map. It will prove invaluable I believe, to my long suffering readers.

Plan of Meerut Cantonment in 1857

Another feature of the mutiny at Meerut is the cutting of the telegraph lines. The line to Delhi had been cut earlier in the day, something no one really seemed to have noticed, but the line to Agra remained intact for some hours, as the message written by Kate Moore, the post master’s sister to her relatives in Agra shows. It was the only complete telegram to reach the rest of India as regards to the unfolding events in Meerut. A second telegram was sent but the transmission was interrupted by the cutting of the wires. Kate wrote to relatives the following message.

“The cavalry has risen, setting fire to their own houses and several officer’s houses besides having killed and would all European soldiers and officers they could find near their lines; if aunt intends to start tomorrow please detain her from doing so as the wan has been prevented from leaving the station.”

The second message, “The 3rd Cavalry have broken out in mutiny, and are killing all Europeans they meet. We are…”

It was Kate’s message to her aunt, relayed then to Mr. Colvin, that ended up informing Canning in Calcutta that mutiny had started.

How it happened

J.A.B. Palmer set out the following sequence of events in his book, and it seems only logical to list it here.

a. Cry or rumour in the Sudder Bazaar that the Europeans were coming, the bazar and its mob being then still quiet.
b. Flight of sepoys from Sudder Bazaar to the lines
c. Uproar in the native infantry lines, the officers coming down and trying to keep their men (especially the 20th NI) under control.
d. Uproar spreads to cavalry lines.
e. Party of cavalry set out via the city to rescue their comrades from the the New Jail.
f. Loss of control over the native infantry
g. Mobs break out in the Sudder Bazaar and among the bungalows.

From start to finish, the main incidents only occupied approximately 2 hours, commencing at 5 pm while the last acts of wanton destruction in the cantonment (led mostly by villagers from outside Meerut) went on long into the night. What is the most startling aspect about the mutiny at Meerut is the speed in which everything happened. I will try, my dear readers, to take you through this day with as much clarity as possible. Yet as bewildered as the everyone on the 10th of May was, we, 164 years later must be prepared to be just as perplexed.

Fly, Sahib,fly!

It was the sepoys of the 11th and the 20th that ran back from the bazaar to raise the alarm of the supposed coming of the Europeans. Almost immediately, mayhem ensued. The first to know – and inform the officers of the native infantries – was the servants.

The officers of the different regiments almost simultaneously heard that something was wrong in their lines. The servants of Captain Chambers (of the 11th NI) came to him around 5 with a story that the lines were in disarray. Chambers then carried the information to Captain Macdonald of the 20th NI. Shortly after, Lieutenant Pattle of the same regiment informed Captain Taylor who was in temporary command of the 20th. However, Taylor, Pattle and Macdonald did not seem to believe things were so bad. They went the lines of the 20th unarmed and on foot, only Macdonald had put on his sword before leaving his house. When they arrived they realised they had been wrong.

Although agitated, the men of the 20th were willing to listen to reason. However, the road from the bazaar which led to the magazine was blocked by civilians, bent on causing a ruckus. The rumour had been after all, that the 20th was going to be removed from the magazine guard. Taylor ordered his men to disperse the crowd but not one of them moved, sullenly disobeying his orders. It took the drummers and musicians armed with sticks to drive back the crowd. The officers did not give up however, trying the reassure their men. Captain Taylor assured them no one was coming to take the magazine away from them and they were finally pacified enough to return to their lines though some of the skulked away carrying loaded muskets – these were the men of the guard who had been armed for duty – no amount of remonstrations from their officers could make them return. Suddenly a mounted sowar of the 3rd LC rode into the lines and shouting the British were coming, he urged that if the sepoys were going to act, they had to do it now. The civilians took up the call, and the 20th BNI no longer able to withstand the pressure, broke into the magazine and started arming themselves. Taylor and his men now realised the extent of the panic. Seeing they could do nothing to stop them, they withdrew. The lines of the 20th BNI were soon engulfed in chaos.

At the lines of the 11th NI something very similar was happening. Surgeon O’Callaghan was in his bungalow between 5 and 6 pm when he saw his servants looking out over the compound wall towards the lines. Thinking nothing of it, he continued dressing and preparing himself for an evening ride with the 11ths commander, Colonel Finnis.
In the lines of the 11th things were slightly worse than the 20th – the men had already tried to break into the bell of arms, but the pay Havildar had quickly locked it up and ran off to tell one of the captains while another corporal was sent off the inform the Colonel.
Colonel Finnis of the 11th BNI quickly arrived with a few other British officers in the lines of his own men, to find they were no less agitated than the 20th. The 20th were armed and they were coming towards the lines of the 11th.
The 11th was as yet unarmed and they could see the 20th approaching across the parade ground, calling on them to join their cause. The 11th as yet remained undecided and “entreated Colonel Finnis to let them have their arms, saying they would stand by us and drive off the 20th.” Apparently distrusting his men and seizing what he perceived as an opportunity to stop the advance of the 20th himself, despite the protests of his men, Finnis turned his horse and rode up to the advancing men of the 20th ordering them to lay down their arms. The 20th were no longer in the mood to be ordered about by anyone and shouted at Finnis to leave. Sensing his hesitation, someone let off a shot, wounding the colonel’s horse. Suddenly realising how precarious his situation was, Finnis, now on foot, tried to flee back to the 11th but it was too late. He managed to get off an order to Captain Dennys, to ask the Brigade-Major for help, when a sepoy of the 20th ran up to the hapless Colonel and fired a shot into his back. He fell and has he lay on the ground, the 20th surged forward and fired a volley at his prostrate body. Ensign Philipps, who had been just next to Finnis when he was shot, recalled,
“As I mounted my horse, my servant, who was holding him, was knocked over, bullets falling as thick as peas. Had not the brutes been such infernally bad shots, we would all have perished.”

As O’Callaghan was about to leave his bungalow, he heard the unmistakeable sound of gunfire.“…a European non-commissioned officer came running with others towards me from the 11th lines, saying, ‘for God’s sake, Sir, leave, come to your bungalow, change that dress and fly.’ I walked into my bungalow and was doffing my uniform; the bullets by this time flying out of the 11th lines into my compound, when the Havildar-Major of the 11th rushed into the room, terrified and breathless, and exclaimed, ‘fly sahib, fly at once, the Regiments are in open mutiny, and firing on their officers, an Colonel Finnis has just been shot in my arms.'”
O’Callaghan did not need a second invitation. Mounting his horse, he quickly made his way to the dragoon lines.

The 11th lost their nerve – their colonel had been killed and now the very real fear of being hung for his murder was certainly a bigger incentive to mutiny than the imaginary fear of being shackled as criminals. They certainly had no choice but to join the 20th.
The British officers of the 11th, seeing what had happened to their colonel no longer felt any impulsion to stay and reason. They turned tail and fled. Unlike those of the 20th, all of the officers of the 11th made it to the safety of the European lines.

Finnis meets the 20th BNI

Having shot Colonel Finnis, the men of the 20th now turned on their own officers. The first one shot was Captain Macdonald, followed by civilian named Tregear who had been spending the day with a friend in the lines. A pay Havildar managed to get Macdonald to safety to the Sergeant-Major’s house, but he died of his wounds shortly after. Captain Taylor fought his way through the crowd even kicking a butcher who came at him with a sword. The rest of the officers in vainly continued trying to reason with their men but the situation escalated out of control. Several sepoys, not yet bent on murder, urged their officers to leave, some even staying with them as they retreated down a side road away from the magazine.
For Lieutenant Humphrey, whose horse was shot under him, the rest of the 10th of May was spent hiding in an outhouse of the hospital. Ensign Lewis was wounded but managed to find safety in a passing carriage. Captain Taylor and Lieutenants Henderson, Shuldham, Pattle and Tytler, along with Assistant-Surgeon Adley, after fighting their way through the bazaar, found refuge in the servant’s toilets in the compound of Lieutenant Colonel Carmichael-Smyth, who by this time, was no longer at home.
If Taylor, Henderson and Pattle had stayed put, chances are they would had survived the night. But they couldn’t help but go back to their lines, perhaps for one last try to calm their men. Henderson was shot and wounded by sepoy but a havildar found him and hid him in the hospital – Henderson was too severely wounded for any help and died shortly after; Taylor was wounded by sword cut from a bazaar butcher – again, a Pay Havildar came to his rescue and pulled the wounded man into a native clerk’s house. This did not work very well and Taylor asked to be removed to his own house. Along the way, the havildar picked up the wounded Pattle.
Captain Earle had not left the lines of the 20th as yet but remained hiding there until after dark. Seizing an opportunity, he dashed over to Taylor’s house where he found the Captain was still alive. Taylor persuaded him to take his buggy and make his way to the European lines – Earle did so, but why Taylor did not join him is a mystery. His dead body was eventually found in the Sudder Bazaar closed to a shop frequented by the European troops, fondly called the “pop shop.”

Grave of Captain Taylor at Meerut. (Photo by Sumeet Inder Singh)

The three men in Carmichael-Smyth’s compound, as uncomfortable as they were, managed to stay put until 11pm when the European troops finally marched by. This however, is a long way away from the present narrative.
Captain Dennys reached Brigadier-Major Whish with Finnis’ message – Whish then set off to find Archdale Wilson. Hewitt in the meantime, appears to have been told by someone else; he quickly made his way – escorted by Lieutenant Warde of the 11th – to European lines. He was doing what he should – taking charge of the European part of his station.
A rather fancifully named lieutenant of the 11th, Henry Le Champion Möller had already sent a warning to the Carbineers, whom their commander Colonel Custance immediately mustered onto the parade ground, ready for service. Whish himself set off to find Archdale Wilson. The adjutant of the 11th, Captain Chambers had gone to the lines as well leaving his pregnant wife Charlotte behind. It was duty before loved ones.

What happened then, to the men of the 20th and the 11th?
The entire force of the the 20 NI mutinied without a single man remaining loyal. From the 11th, 125 men kept to the lines and “submitted to being disarmed and were told to go to their homes. Unarmed, they said their chances of arrival were small. They were then offered and willingly accepted service in the police. Their arms were later restored and 90 of them remained on duty until the end of the Mutiny, the remainder taking leave and making for their homes.”
It was nevertheless a sorry end for 2 regiments that had covered their heads in so much past glory.

Their Madness had got Mastery over Them

For Lieutenant Gough, the 10th of May had been yet another hot and miserable day in a pre-monsoon Meerut. He had spent it idly playing with his pet bear and inspecting his horses, had tried a bit of reading and eventually flung himself down on his bed and tried to sleep. Barely awake, he started to dress for duty – he was orderly officer of the day – when suddenly the officer who had come with the warning from the night before and two orderlies rode up, calling loudly for him. Gough rushed out, still dressing, and listened in horror as the officer told him the native infantry had mutinied and had begun murdering their officers. The 3rd LC was arming themselves and preparing their horses. The officer called on Gough to accompany him to the lines of the 3rd. It was only now that Gough noticed clouds of smoke billowing up from the native lines and became aware of volley after volley of musket fire. Gough lost no time in mounting his own horse and galloping down to his men. On the way he passed by the lines of the 20th NI – whom he wisely avoided but

“I saw a sight which has been indelibly stamped on my memory. These lines, usually a scene of perfect discipline and neatness, with rows of mud barracks neatly thatched, with the quarter-guard ready to turn out, and with groups of well-dressed and happy contented sepoys lounging about, were now a scene of the most wild and awful confusion: the huts on fire, the sepoys (in each regiment over a thousand strong) having seized their arms and ammunition, dancing and leaping frantically about, calling and yelling to each other, and blazing away into the air and in all directions – absolutely a maddened crowd of fiends and devils, all thirsting for the blood of their officers and of Europeans generally. I confess I was appalled at the sight, and saw at once it was no place for me, their madness had got the mastery over them…”

Some sepoys of the 20th spotted Gough and began running forward, firing as they ran. The native officer managed to get Gough to turn his horse around without a shot having hit him. Gough managed to get to his own troop but it was not any better than in the lines of the 20th.

“There I found everything in the utmost disorder: the men had thrown off all control and discipline, and were wildly excited; most of them were mounted and galloping to and fro, the lines were being burnt and there was a general rush to the magazine, where the men heled themselves to ammunition – regardless of its being the “unclean cartridge.” As for any efforts on my part to bring them to a sense of their duties or of obedience to my orders, they were absolutely useless, and I felt myself almost de trop!”
Fortunately, no one tried to kill Gough as yet but that was about to change. The more he tried to reason with the 3rd, the less willing they became until finally with cries of “Kill him! Kill him!” a few recruits endeavoured to shoot him. Until now, Gough had been alone, but now Quartermaster-Sergeant Cunninghame rode up, wildly pursued by several men with drawn swords. It was enough for Gough’s loyal escort. The native officer smacked Gough’s horse across the nose to force him and Cunninghame to leave – they had not risked their lives just to see Gough killed.
“Thus was my farewell taken of my troop and regiment of which I had always felt so proud. It was a desperate moment, and my feelings of grief and despair at the turn events had taken I can well remember..” but he would have time to grieve later, at the moment he was tearing down the road, fleeing towards the European lines. The road was crowded by furious mobs, and they had to cut their way through them, while being pelted with stones and smacked by sticks bound in iron. Gough’s first instinct however, was to head towards Commissioner Greathed’s house.
Pounding in the door of the house and crowds started to close in behind him, the Greathed’s servants informed Gough that their employers were not at home and would he please go away? Seeing there was nothing he could do – even if Greathed was home, he was powerless to stand against an angry mob of 100 strong. So Gough finally did as he was told and rode to the Artillery lines, the native escort still protecting him.
Seeing him safely ensconced among his own, the escort saluted and left him – their duty, they said, was with their regimental comrades and “whether for life or death, they must return to the regiment.” Gough tried to find the native officer after the mutiny but to no avail – he could only presume he had been killed in Delhi with others of the 3rd LC. “A braver or more loyal man I have never met, and, whatever his faults may have subsequently been, in his mutiny against his salt and his military allegiance, all will allow his loyalty to me was beyond praise, and I can never forget him or how he risked his life again and again to save mine.”
While Gough was receiving his warning, Captain Mackenzie who had decided reading a book was a far better way to spend Sunday than going to church, was disturbed at home by his bearer, Shoedeen rushing into his room and exclaiming that a riot had started in the lines and they were murdering the Europeans. Unlike Gough, Mackenzie didn’t believe him initially – although he could now hear the sound of gun shots in the distance. Quickly putting on his uniform and sword he mounted his horse and galloped towards the lines. He suddenly saw the Quartermaster- Sergeant “flying for his life on foot from his house in the lines. “Oh God! Sir, he exclaimed, the troops are coming to cut us up!” Mackenzie offered they stick together but the Quartermaster-Sergeant was having none of it. “…the sight of as small cloud of dust rapidly approaching in the distance overcame his resolution and he rushed through the gate into the grounds of my bungalow, and scaled the wall between them and those of the next house. Instantly a small mob of badmashes, prominent among whom I recognised my own night watchman, attacked him.” Injured by a spear cut through the lips, he fired one barrel of his gun and shot the chowkidar dead. He then scaled the next wall and disappeared. (Whether Gough or Mackenzie is wrong about it being the Quartermaster-sergeant in both incidents is disputed – he can’t have been in both places at once, so either Gough is mistaken as to the identity or Mackenzie meant someone else. Needless to say, in both accounts, the man survives).
Mackenzie did not move from the spot. One sepoy attacked him with a sword – not having time to draw his, Mackenzie forced his horse at the man, which “spoilt his stroke.” Seeing Mackenzie draw his sword now from its scabbard, the sepoy declined to pursue the attack and hastened out of the way. It still did not occur to Mackenzie that he was in any real danger. Looking down the road towards the lines he saw
“it was full of cavalry troopers galloping towards me…I shouted at them to halt. This they did, and surrounded me; and before I knew what was happening I found my self warding off, as well as I could, a fierce onslaught of many blades….” The appearance of Lieutenant Craigie, whose own bungalow was nearby, stopped the attack and the troopers rode off. Only now did Mackenzie actually fathom that mutiny had well and truly taken over Meerut.
His thoughts now turned to his sister and Craigie’s wife – the two women had set out some time earlier for the evening church service. Although weighed by this concern, the men decided their duty was with their men. The scene that met them was the same as what Gough had experienced and it seem pointless to remain. The two officers, among others, remonstrated with their men anyway, Craigie being an excellent linguist but the only answer they received was they should be off, that the Company Rule was over for good. Craigie might have convinced some 40 of them to stay loyal had he had a little more time -but the cry came up that the jail was being attacked and the prisoners were being freed. Craigie now saw his duty was elsewhere. He shouted to Mackenzie and Adjutant Melville Clarke who had only just arrived, to join him, they were going to the jail. It was almost to be Mackenzie’s last ride. In the fading evening light he rode straight into a cut telegraph wire which caught him straight in the chest and threw him off his horse. Had he been riding upright, it would have been his head. Momentarily stunned, he managed to regain his feet and his horse and tore off after Craigie and Clarke. On their way to the jail, they saw a palanquin gharry being “dragged by driverless horse, while beside it rode a trooper of the 3rd Cavalry, plunging his sword repeatedly through the open window into the body of its already dead occupant -an unfortunate European woman…in a moment, Craigie had dealt him a swinging cut across the neck and Clarke had run him through the body..” Although they had avenged the woman, this did not sit well with the men who had faithfully accompanied Mackenzie on this wild ride to the jail. They were lucky enough that none of the men, despite being ” greatly excited and angered” by the sight of their dead colleague, none of them were deposed to kill off the officers just yet.
The three officers and their loyal guard arrived at the jail too late. Already the prisoners were swarming out into the night, the blacksmiths waiting outside to remove their shackles and the “jail-guard of the native infantry on our riding up to it answered our questions by firing at us…” There was nothing they could so the men resolved to return to the cantonment, which they saw, was now in flames.
Mackenzie was now permitted to search for his sister and Craigie’s wife, somewhere in the horror of Meerut. Taking a dozen still loyal native cavalrymen with him – all those that would follow him willingly, he set his horse at speed to look for the women.
Craigie went back to the parade ground. There was nothing to be done. Haranguing and pleading with the native soldiers was fruitless and with the rest of the European officers – Galway, Clarke and Fairlie, Craigie took the disgraced colours of this once proud regiment and they sadly made their way to the European lines. Fairlie received a bullet in his saddle and Galway somehow managed to get left behind. Hiding himself in some bushes on the periphery of the parade grounds he was nearly killed by the by discharge of guns from the Europeans who finally showed up after the moon came out. As will be seen later, they weren’t shooting at anything at all.
As for Carmichael-Smyth, who is never far off from this narrative, he was entertaining guests in his home. Regimental Surgeon Christie and regimental Veterinary Surgeon Philipps had come for dinner. Around 6pm, with dinner over, they were interrupted by the arrival of the Major J.F. Harriott who had met Captain Macdonald on his way to this men, saying a row had started in the lines of the 20th. Only now did Smyth hear shots fired and in his own account says he knew this was out of order as it was a Sunday! If it had been any other day of the week, it is doubtful it would have been anymore in order. For some reason known to himself, Smyth could not hurry enough to get rid of Harriott, placing him in his own buggy and sending him off to the European lines. Christie and Philipps left in another buggy.
As for the Lieutenant-Colonel, he was now drowning in reports. Lieutenant Melville Clarke and Major Fairlie turned up – he ordered them to immediately to go to the lines of the 3rd LI. His Jemadar Maun Singh and the rather omnipresent Brijmohan made their appearance, in all likelihood to tell Smyth if he stayed any longer his life would be forfeit. Ordering his horse, Smyth did not hesitate but took the swiftest route to the European lines with a few small detours in his line of duty. He stopped on the way, like Gough did, to beat at the door of the Greathed’s house. The servants told him the master and mistress were “not at home.” Then he made his way to Hewitts’ -but the bungalow was empty and Hewitt was gone. He then went on to find Archdale Wilson – but again, there was no one there. He would meet Wilson on the Artillery parade ground.
Although he was censured for his conduct on the 10th of May, Carmichael-Smyth had done the best he could in the space of these 2 hours. Had he gone to his men, he would most certainly been shot. He then tried to warn the General, the Brigadier and the Commissioner but no one was home. Seeing his duty done, he left Meerut in hands of his officers and the mutineers. Any heroism he might have shown would surely have been misplaced.

As for Cornet McNabb, who had written such spirited letters to his mother, he was killed on his way to the lines of the 3rd LC. Gough found his body in a ditch close to Surgeon Smith’s bungalow. His face was badly disfigured and he was so thoroughly hacked up, Gough could only recognise him by his “great height” and the very wrong braid he wore on his frock coat.

Though not from Meerut, this was popular depiction of mutineers.

As best they could the officers made their way to the European lines – but what happened to the civilians and everyone else? In the next chapter, the events at Meerut take on a completely different face as the fateful 2 hour draw to a close.

“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

2 thoughts on “Cause and Consequences II

  1. The pictures match the scenario pretty well, and the writeup design fulfills the plot in a very interesting way too. Reading your blogs made me fall in love with Indian history. Can’t take my eyes off now, real nice work.


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