Delhi in 1857

In 1857, Delhi was home to the last Mughal Emperor, Shah Mohammed Abu Zuphur Saraz-o-dain Mohammed Bahadur, (or as he is better known, Bahadur Shah Zafar) descendent of the great Emperor Shah Jahan, and now, at the age of 82, an old man, the only power left to him, was his name. His was given to sitting cross-legged on his bed, and writing poetry while surrounded by intrigue and strife in this curious world where he existed as much in the past as others in the present.
The Red Fort, built by Shah Jahan, with walls running for a mile and half in circumference and some 110 feet high, overlooked the River Jumna. It had eight uneven sides, with two longer sides on the east and west with six shorter walls on the north and south. A ditch some 75 feet wide and 30 feet deep circled it making it virtually impenetrable from without while from high on the walls, thousands of loop holes looked down on the moat.
Inside the Fort, a veritable warren of royal dwellings, meeting halls and council chambers presented itself, intertwined with gardens. Royal baths sprayed fountains of rose and lavender water, the courtyard was spread with carpets from Persia and silk curtains, while a Rhapsodist, whose only duty was to tell stories to the king who lay on his scented couch listening in serene contentment.
Within the walls, the world was given over to
“a maze of houses, some of masonry, some of mats, some of mud. The larger houses contained underground rooms, intricate passages, enclosed courtyards, dark and mysterious holes and corners, secret doors and outlets which communicated from house to house. Hundreds of young men and women, living without occupation and with little to amuse them…hundreds of worn-out old men and women with nothing to look forward to but the grave. The young were given over to lust, the old to intrigue..”

The Red Fort, 1785

Bahadur Shah Zafar had been on the throne since 1837 but he was nothing more than an emperor in title, the vast Mughal Empire existed but in name alone and his own authority now was greatly diminished. This once vast empire had been decimated by war with the Mahrathas in the Deccan who had effectively ended Mughal rule back in the 18th century, their territories gradually becoming assimilated by the Maharatas or declaring independence and turning into small kingdoms of their own. The Mahratas installed Shah Alam II on the throne in 1772 – the Mughal Empire was reduced to a tributary state. With the growing political and military power of the East India Company by the mid nineteenth century, the emperor of the once mighty Mughals was further reduced. He was provided a pension by the Company and allowed to collect taxes from Delhi, and he kept a ceremonial military force in the fort, which was under the command of a British officer. By 1857 the emperor’s territory was confined to these red walls and only as far as Palam, some 20 kilometres away, as the crow flies. However, a name can travel far and still carry weight.
The civil lines of Delhi were located above and below the Fort, and housed offices and bungalows, and a European enclave called Daryaganj. To west was the Delhi Bank and north of it, St. James’ Church with the Main Guard just behind it. The north-west walls of the fort over looked out over the river which was crossed by bridge of boats – and led then onwards to the Meerut Road. The walls themselves were cut by gates of formidable size, Lahore Gate (where the British officer, Captain Douglas had rooms above it) and Delhi Gate, both standing 41 feet high and 24 feet wide. A further six smaller gates, completed the picture.

The King and his favourite wife, Zinat Mahal

The Mutineers from Meerut Arrive

Some time during the afternoon on Sunday, the 10th of May, a few sepoys from Meerut arrived in Delhi. Although it isn’t clear as to what news they brought with them, one can be sure the story of the horrifying shackling parade was probably not far from their minds – very likely they had more than a few words to say about it. But when they arrived, Meerut was only just starting to simmer.
Later on that night, a horseman arrived from Meerut – exhausted and desperate to give a letter to Simon Fraser, the Commissioner of Delhi.
Mr. Fraser wasn’t in the mood for visitors – he had supped all too well and was now drowsing in his chair on what was a hot and sultry May evening, his servants too scared to wake him from his slumber, even if it was for what appeared to them a very important letter. Yet awakened he was – and in his sleepy stupor and obviously not realising what the message was, he put the letter in his pocket, unread, and resigned himself back to Morpheus.
This wasn’t the only news to reach Delhi. The men at the telegraph office had been puzzling things out too on Sunday. The heat drove everyone indoors and the telegraph office was shut during the worst of it, only to reopen again around 4pm. Before shutting shop around 11 am, the Delhi signaller, 18 year old Anglo-Indian, William Brendish, heard about a disturbance in Meerut regarding the sentencing of the cavalry men. What he was given to believe was the 85 men were to be blown from guns – a notion so absurd, Brendish didn’t listen for more news. He simply closed the doors and went home. When he returned, he found that all communication with Meerut had ceased. Curious as to what could be causing the interruption, Brendish and his equally young assistant, J. W. Pilkington decided to follow the cable to the cable house located on the far side of the river. Testing the line there, they found the fault must be closer to Meerut but it was slowly getting dark so further investigations would have to wait until morning. They reported to the superior, Mr. Todd, who arranged to drive out the following morning to find the break.
Unfortunately for Mr. Todd, he met the very first mutineers from Meerut – 20 sowars of the 3rd Cavalry – on the road on Monday morning, the 11th of May, and was never heard from again.

The mutineers from Meerut arrived in Delhi quite unexpectedly in the morning crossing the bridge of boats over the Jamuna, killing not just Mr. Todd but the bridge toll keeper. At first a lone rider made his way to the Lahore Gate but was refused entry by a guard of the 38th Native Infantry. Captain Douglas, Commandant of the Palace Guard, was informed of the man’s arrival and he came down from his rooms to find out what he wanted. The sowar replied that he had just arrived from Meerut where he had mutinied and had come to the guard for drink of water and pipe. Douglas immediately ordered the his arrest but it was too late, the man put spurs to his horse and rode off.
The old King too, from his chambers, could see the arrival of the rest of the mutineers from Meerut. Advised to shut the gates below, he gave the order and sent for Captain Douglas. Soon more of the mutineers arrived and began loudly to demand an audience with the King. Afraid of letting Douglas open the gate and going down to meet the men, the King advised Douglas to speak to them from the balcony. Douglas told them, “Don’t come here! These are the private apartments of the ladies of the palace. Your standing opposite them is disrespect to the King!” On hearing this, the men moved off, heading to the Rajghat Gate in the south. The King instructed Douglas to close all the city gates, which Douglas proceeded to do, starting with the Calcutta Gate where he found the commissioner Simon Fraser, the magistrate John Hutchinson and Fraser’s head clerk, Mr. Nixon and briefly joined by Theophilus Metcalfe.
The Calcutta Gate was already closed but the men received a message that the mutineers had entered the city via the Rajghat Gate and were already plundering Daryaganj, where most of the European populace lived.
As if by command, a group of sowars now appeared from that direction, fired a volley at the gathered men, wounding Hutchinson in the arm and causing the rest to flee. Fraser, hiding himself in a sentry box, found a musket and shot dead one of the assailants, then, mounting his buggy, he sped off towards the Fort. Douglas, Hutchinson and Nixon followed Fraser by foot, but along the way, Nixon was killed and would later be found with a biscuit stuffed in his mouth. Seeing no other means of escape, Douglas and Hutchinson leapt into the ditch which surrounded the fort. However, the jump injured Douglas severely on his feet and his back. Only with the help of some loyal servants were they then carried back to Douglas’ apartments above the Lahore Gate. Here the injured men were tended to by Miss Jennings, the Reverend Jennings daughter and Miss Clifford her friend who had arrived in Delhi the previous day.  Meanwhile, Mr. Fraser attempted to send the two girls into the protection of the King’s wife Zeenat Mahal, but it was too late. Armed only with a sword, he went down to meet the mob.  
“Mr. Fraser, seeing such marked feelings of hostility, began to return to Captain Douglas’ quarters, and as he reached the foot of the stairs, Haji, lapidary, raised his sword and made a cut at him. Mr. Fraser, who had a sheathed sword in his hand, turned sharply around and thrust at him, with the sword in it’s sheath, saying to the havildar of the gate guard, “What kind of behaviour is this?” Upon which the havildar made a show of driving off the crowd; but no sooner had Mr. Fraser’s back turned, then the havildar nodded with this head to the lapidary, to signify to him that now he should renew the attack. The lapidary, thus encouraged, rushed upon Mr. Fraser, and inflicted a deep and mortal wound on the right side of his neck. Mr. Fraser at once fell, when three other men…rushed out and cut him with their swords over the face, head and chest until he was quite dead.”
Unhindered the mob rushed upstairs to Captain Douglas’ apartments, and, armed with talwars, quickly killed Mr. Hutchinson, Reverend Jennings and the two ladies. One of the King’s bearers, Mamdoh, grabbed a hold of Jokhun, Captain Douglas’ mace bearer (who was trying to flee the apartments) and forced him back upstairs.
“I said, ‘you have yourselves killed all the gentlemen already,’ but on reaching the room where Captain Douglas was, I saw that he was not quite dead. Mamdoh perceiving this also, hit him with a bludgeon on the forehead and killed him immediately. I saw the other bodies, including those of the two ladies. Mr. Hutchinson was lying in one room, and the bodies of Captain Douglas, Mr. Jennings and the two young ladies in another, on the floor, with the exception of that of Captain Douglas, which was on a bed.”

Bahadur Shah was told of the killings and he decided it would be best to close all of the gates to the fort before anything worse could happen. Yet the two companies of the 38th NI on guard at the palace were no longer in the mood to be given orders by anyone and flatly refused. Instead they marched to the Hall of Audience calling out to the king. Gradually, the hall filled with men from Meerut who told Bahadur Shah what they had done in Meerut and proclaimed they had come to him for protection. The king was not particularly impressed by their behaviour, admonishing them for having acted “very wickedly”, but he was not going to win this battle. The gates were open and now before him stood 200 men of the mutinous Meerut regiments, each one declaring the king must join their cause. Bahadur Shah sat himself down on his chair and one by one the men came forward bowing their heads, “asking him to place a hand on them. The King did so and each withdrew..” He had become a titular leader of a mutinous army.

Delhi Explodes

Back at the telegraph office, Brendish and Pilkington were manning their station as usual, waiting to hear back from Mr. Todd and still puzzling over the break with Meerut. They did not have to wait long – a messenger from the Delhi Gazette brought them first news of that men from Meerut had arrived – they promptly sent the news to Amballa where a British garrison was stationed. Then, they waited. They could hear the sound of shouting outside their office and as the din became louder it was becoming increasingly clear that something was not right in Delhi. At noon, Brendish finally decided to see what was happening and to his surprise he could see what looked like an exodus of Delhi’s population all rushing down the road with as many of their belongings as they could carry, all moving as fast as their baggage would allow, a mad throng escaping in one violent rush. All of a sudden a voice from the crowd shouted out to Brendish,
“For God’s sake, get inside and close your doors!” It was a British officer in a torn and bloodied uniform, and unable to get out of the moving mass of people he quickly disappeared in the writhing crowd. Realising that their situation was certainly worse than they could imagine, Brendish and Pilkington did just that – unarmed as they were they shut the doors and now tried to persuade Mrs. Todd, who had come down earlier to the office searching for her husband, that waiting for him now was probably an exercise in futility. It would be another 2 hours before they could persuade the woman her husband was probably never coming back.
The final act of William Brendish was to send a message to Ambala which would send waves through the country.

Then Messr’s Brendish and Pilkington and Mrs. Todd made their way to Flagstaff Tower.
It was not the last message William Brendish would send to Ambala -later on in the day under orders from Brigadier Graves, he would telegraph the following:

“Cantonments in a state of siege. Mutineers from Meerut 3rd Cavalry, numbers not known, said to be 150 men. Cut off communications with Meerut. Taken possession of bridge of boats. 34th NI sent against them, but would not act. Several officers killed or wounded. City in a state of considerable excitement. Troops send down but nothing known yet. Further infantry will be forwarded.”

On Tuesday morning, the British authorities all over India woke up to the very real threat they had done so much to ignore, sent by girl from Meerut and an 18 year old signaller from Delhi.

WIlliam Brendish in the Delhi Telegraph Office.

Delhi Infected

As in Meerut, mob rule had infected elements of the population and gloating from their success of murdering Captain Douglas and his companions, the riotous mob took the the streets of the city, plundering and killing as they went, leaving behind destruction and death. Shops were plundered, old grudges were taken care of as swarms of people, civilians and sepoys alike, tore through the city hell bent of grabbing anything of value. They stormed the Delhi Bank and massacred the staff who had valiantly tried to fend off the looters with ledgers and sticks, (including the brother of David Churcher who was at this point still peaceful in Fatehgarh and not yet hiding in fields), while the manager Mr. George Berresford, his wife and their daughters found refuge on the roof of an outbuilding. Armed with nothing but a sword and his wife carrying a spear, the Berresfords put up a fight, but their attackers outnumbered them and soon they were overwhelmed and murdered. Having broken open the vaults and stolen everything they could, the mob set fire to the Delhi Bank.

In the office of the Delhi Gazette a group of diligent Christian compositors were hard at work setting the type for a special edition of the paper bearing the stamp “Delhi Gazette EXTRA” when they were set upon by the mob who rushed into the building and killed all of them and then proceeded to demolish the premises, throw the presses into the river and “melt down the type into slugs.” They ransacked St. James’ Church, smashing the monuments on the walls with hammers and axes, stealing the sacramental plate, destroying the furniture and after ringing them in glee they cut down the bells, which came crashing down to the floor below.
Killing Christians was the order of the day, whether European or Anglo-Indian, and anyone unlucky enough to be caught out by the mob very swiftly met a gruesome end. While the soldiers would set their sights on the killing their officers like in Meerut, the local population was not so discerning. Although some 50 prisoners were taken and brought to the fort, their inevitable fate was only postponed for a few days before they too were brought out and killed.
In the Kashmir Bazaar – one of the first areas to rise up, the families of the English merchants, Mr. WIlliam Clark and Mr. John Morley who shared a house, were in state of alarm. Leaving their servants to watch out for any approaching mobs, the two families hid at the back of the house. Three hours passed and the crowds had drifted elsewhere, so Mr. Morley decided to head out into the city, if nothing else to figure out if they could somehow escape. He had not gone far down the empty street, when he saw a crowd of men in the distance. As he watched the group with the growing fear they could be heading to his house, he did not see the others who suddenly made a rush for his gateway, which was behind him. John Morley, only armed with stick started to run. Some men now gave chase. Although he managed to evade his attackers, it would be a few hours before he returned home.
Upon coming back to his house, he found the garden strewn with broken furniture, shattered crockery and burning clothes. His thoughts immediately turned to his own family and that of the Clarks all of whom he had left alive but a few hours ago. He found his washer man, cowering in a cowshed at the back of the house, who told him what had happened.

..Oh Sahib, when you were gone away, the Memsahibs and the children all sat together very frightened, for we could hear a great noise and firing of guns. And Clark Sahib got out his fowling piece and loaded it….Soon a large crowd with sticks, swords and spears came into the compound. Clark Sahib stood on the steps and said, “What do you want?” They only abused him and said they would kill every Feringhee…The people rushed in.. the servants all ran away. Only I remained behind…” Mr. Clark implored the mob to take everything and leave them their lives but they only laughed at him and proceeded to” break and loot everything. My memsahib had taken three babes into the ghosoulkhana and shut the door. Mr. Clark had stood with his gun behind him. But they saw it and said, “Give it to us.” Then one man went to Mrs. Clark and spoke bad words to her. Clark Sahib called out in a terrible voice, ” You soour!” and shot him dead. He then wounded another man with the other barrel and commenced fighting with his gun like a lattee. I knew now they would murder everyone…”
The dhobi tried to save Mrs. Morley and the children, “…but there were people all around the house. They hit me and told me to go away or they would murder me too. I went into the garden and sat behind a hedge. I heard a great crying and they threw things out of the house and broke the panes of glass in the doors. Then they said, ‘Let us go and loot.’ And they all went away.”

Inside the house, Morley found everything had been destroyed, the furniture was smashed to bits and the contents of the food cupboards was strewn about, leaving a nauseating smell of brandy and wine mixed with broken bottles of jams and preserves. He steeled himself enough to enter the next room where he found the Clarks side by side, dead on the floor, their little son “pinned to the wall with his head hanging down.” He did not have the strength to enter the ghosoulkhana where he knew he would see his own family, massacred. He would eventually escape Delhi – which will be told elsewhere.
Dr. Chaman Lal, a Hindu convert to Christianity had been attending to his patients in his Daryaganj clinic when he was murdered, having been pointed out by people on the street to the sepoys charging into the to city from Raj Ghat Gate. “One soldier pinned him down, sat on his chest and asked what religion he was. When Dr. Lal replied that he was Christian, the sowar shot him dead at point blank range with his pistol.” The cavalry then proceeded to ransack the hospital and burn it down.
It wasn’t just Christians – some of the first people to be looted in Delhi who, besides being unpopular were also immensely rich. Some of the city’s wealthiest patrons were targeted for the same reason and anyone found harbouring English fugitives could expect nothing but death at the hands of the mob.
The civilian population at Delhi had had no warning, no possible way to protect themselves. Those that could had made a rush to Flagstaff Tower, others tried their best to hide and avoid capture, with greater or lesser success. Delhi too had a military but just like in Meerut, they had been thrown into confusion.

The Military at Delhi

The 38th, 54th, 74th native regiments and a battery of native artillery continued to take orders from their officers. Surly and certainly not in a general good humour, they had not had got their hopes as yet that the Meerut mutiny would succeed – the troops, like their British officers were awaiting reinforcements from the brethren in Meerut, who by now, must be on their way.
Earlier that morning as the three regiments and the artillery were paraded in their lines north of the city, to be informed of the execution of Isuree Pandey who had been hung in Barrackpore three weeks earlier. It struck Captain Tytler of the 38th that the response of his men was unusual. “I remarked a murmur of disapprobation throughout the whole regiment. Though it lasted but a few seconds, it struck me forcibly as something extraordinary, never having witnessed anything like it before.” The men “hissed and shuffled their feet” – a clear sign to an experienced officer like Tytler, that his men were no longer to be cowed by an execution. The parade was dismissed and the officers returned to their quarters.
As officers were just finishing their breakfasts, a message came from Mr. Fraser that the troops should be sent post haste to the city to prevent the mutineers from entering. Until now, none of the officers had any idea what was happening in Delhi – Tytler went so far as to tell his wife, “…those fellows from Meerut have come over and I suppose they are kicking up a row in the city..” There was nothing to be afraid of, he assured her and went off to his duty. Upon reaching his men, he found them curiously agitated, and when time came to receive their ammunition, many took more than they were meant to. They left the lines very excited “shouting vehemently every now and then.” Told off to guard a small magazine north of the city called The White House, which commanded the river, they would have to wait here for several hours, watching the smoke rising from the city and clear sounds of disturbances reaching them through the sweltering heat.
The men stood around in small, sullen groups, refusing to come in out of the sun, even when Tytler ordered them. “When I went into one of the rooms I remarked, for the first time, a native, from his appearance a soldier, haranguing the men of the companies and saying that every power or government existed their allotted them and there was nothing extraordinary that the English had come to an end…before I could make a prisoner of him, the Magazine in the city exploded an then the men of the 2 companies with a tremendous shout took up their arms and ran off to the city, exclaiming, ‘Prithvi Raj Ki Jai’ or “Victory to the Sovereign of the World.”
Captain Tytler and Captain Gardner managed to keep back 80 men but the rest were beyond their control. The few who stayed had served with their officers in Afghanistan.

Nineteen year old Lieutenant Edward Vibart too had barely finished his breakfast when the orderly havildar of his regiment rushed into his room, to report that the 3rd Light Cavalry from Meerut had arrived in the city and were “creating disturbances.” Quickly putting on his uniform, Vibart dashed down to his lines – the 54th – to find the men were falling in and a very excited Colonel Ripley was giving out orders to the different companies. Vibart’s company and the Grenadiers, with Major Paterson commanding, were to the proceed to the artillery lines to bring 2 guns to the city, while Colonel Ripley would lead the rest towards the Kashmir Gate.
Colonel Ripley marched down 8 companies to the Kashmir Gate, where a detachment of the 38th NI was on duty at the Main Guard – situated close to St. James’ Church. As they approached the church they were suddenly confronted by a large body of men from the 3rd LC, approaching them from the palace. Swiftly they shot four officers dead. The remainder frantically ordered their men to attack but they merely fired their weapons into the air and then turned on their officers, cutting down Colonel Ripley, and attacking the others with bayonets. Two escaped down a side street, where they eventually got through a gap in the city walls thus evading their pursuers. Three others barricaded themselves in a house but the door was soon smashed in – the sergeant major was killed and though the crowd made it nigh impossible, the other two managed to get away.

Skirmish in front of St. James’ Church

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Proctor of the 38th had also ordered his men to fire upon the mutineers but they jeered at his helplessness, telling him that the time had come for revenge on all those who had tried to destroy their religion. Captain William Wallace of the 74th now left Proctor on his own and galloped out of the Kashmir Gate, intending to get reinforcements from the cantonments. Riding past Vibart and Paterson, he implored them to hurry up with the guns – the fellow officer’s were being murdered in the Main Guard. Moments later, Vibart saw Colonel Ripley carried out, “literally hacked to pieces. The poor man was still alive…I now entered the Main Guard and found everything in confusion…a few cavalry troopers in the French-grey uniforms were seen galloping back in the direction of the Palace..,but as for the men of my own regiment, they had all vanished. The lifeless body of Captain Burrowes was lying close by the gate of the churchyard…Other bodies were observed scattered about the place….I saw our poor fellows brought in , their faces distorted with all the agonies of a violent death, and hacked about in every conceivable way…” Hearing now that the 11th and 20th had also arrived from Meerut and were possibly already on their way to the Main Guard, the two guns which Vibart had been escorting were placed in position at the gate.
For now, the men with Vibart did not seem inclined to run off, while those with Lieutenant Proctor, although insubordinate and refusing to obey any orders at all, did not appear to want to leave either, probably believing, as did Vibart himself, that the British troops from Meerut were not very far off.
By early afternoon a reinforcement of 150 men of the 74th NI led by Major Abbott and two more guns under Lieutenant Aislabie arrived at the Main Guard. Then some 200 men of the 54th showed up, clutching their regimental colours and protesting most vehemently that they had been gripped with panic by the sudden sight of the 3rd LC and had bolted from fear. It soon became clear however, that none of the men, despite their protestations, were willing to follow orders any more than it suited them and their loyalty was just a passing notion.
The situation was not helped by the sudden arrival of English families and various stragglers from the city, appearing at the Main Guard looking for protection. They had survived the massacres in the city, and the site of English officers filled them with some hope. But Vibart and his fellow officers could do nothing. They stood by and watched as the church was ransacked as none of their men would take their orders. Worst of all, an impassioned cry for help came from Mr Galloway of the Treasury, who with a borrowed sword in his hand, was attempting to fend off hordes of attackers. Vibart could do nothing and Galloway died alone. Another call came from the Magazine.

The Magazine

In charge of the Delhi Magazine was George Willoughby, a shy, reserved and portly young man. He had been on duty since early that morning – and from a bastion facing the river he had watched the mutineers enter the city. The native guard flatly refused to take his orders but even without them he managed to barricade the outer gates and position guns on the inside double loaded with grape. He wasn’t alone – Lieutenant Raynor with Conductors Buckley, Shaw, Scully and Acting/Sub-Conductor Crow and Sergeants Edwards and Stewart were with him. Knowing his defences would not hold up to any sustained attack, Willoughby laid a train of powder from the store room to a tree in Magazine compound and on a given signal (Conductor Buckley would wave his hat), Conductor Scully was to light the match.

A drawing by George Willoughby, 1840.

There is no better account of what happened at the Magazine then that of Lieutenant George Forest.

From Lieutenant G. Forest. Assistant Commissary of Ordnance, to Colonel A. Abbott, CS., Inspector-General of Ordnance and Magazines Fort William.

Sir,l have the honour to report for the information of Government, and in the absence of my commanding officer, Lieutenant Willoughby, Artillery, supposed to be killed on his retreat from Delhi to this station, the following facts as regards the capture of the Delhi Magazine by the mutineers and insurgents on the 11th inst. On the morning of that date, between seven and eight p.m.. Sir Theophilus Metcalf came to my house and requested that I would accompany him to the magazine, for the purpose of having two guns placed on the bridge, sons to prevent the mutineers from passing over. On our arrival at the magazine, we found present Lieutenants Willoughby and Raynor with Conductors Buckley, Shaw, Scully and Acting/Sub-Conductor Crow and Sergeants Edwards and Stewart with the native establishment. On Sir Theophilus Metcalf alighting from his buggy, Lieutenant Willoughby and I accompanied him to the small bastion on the river face, which commanded a full view of the bridge, from which we could distinctly see the mutineers marching in open column, headed by the cavalry, and the Delhi side of the bridge was already in the possession of a body of cavalry. On Sir Theophilus Metcalf observing this, he proceeded with Lieutenant Willoughby to see if the city gate was closed against the mutineers. However, this step was needless, as the mutineers were admitted directly to the palace, through which they passed cheering. On Lieutenant Willoughby’s return to the magazine, the gate of the magazine were closed and barricaded, and every possible arrangement that could be made was at once commenced on. Inside the gate leading to the park were placed two six pounders, double charged with grape, one under Acting/Sub Conductor Crow and Sergeant Stewart, with the lighted matches in their hands and with orders that if any attempt was made to force that gate both guns were to be fired at once, and they were to fall back on that part of the magazine in which Lieutenant Willoughby and I were posted. The principal gate of the magazine was similarly defended by two guns, with the chevaux de frieze laid down on the inside, For the further defence of this gate and the magazine in its vicinity there were two six pounders so placed that either commanded the gate and a small bastion in its vicinity. Within sixty yards of the gate and in front of the office, and commanding two cross roads, were three six pounders and one twenty-four pounder howitzer, which could be so managed as to act on any part of the magazine in that neighbourhood.

After all these guns and howitzers had been placed in the several positions above named, they were loaded with double charges of grape. The next step taken was to place arms in the hands of the native establishment, which they most reluctantly received and appeared particularly the Mussulman portion of the establishment to be in a state not only of excitement but also if insubordination, as they refused to obey any orders issued by the Europeans. After the above arrangements had been made, a train was laid by Conductors Buckley, Scully and Sergeant Stewart, ready to be fired by a preconcerted signal, which was that of Conductor Buckley raising his hat from his head, on the order being given by lieutenant Willoughby. The train was to be fired by Conductor Scully, but not until such time as the last round from the howitzers had been fired. So soon as the above arrangements had been made, guards from the palace came and demanded the possession of the magazine in the name of the king of Delhi, to which no reply was given.

Immediately after this, the Subadar of the guard on duty at the magazine informed Lieutenant Willoughby and myself that the king of Delhi had sent down word to the mutineers that he would without delay send scaling ladders fro the palace for the purpose of scaling the walls, and these shortly after arrived. On the ladders being erected against the wall the whole of our native establishment deserted us by climbing up the sloped roofs on the inside of the magazine and descending the ladders on the outside, after which the enemy appeared in great numbers on the top of the walls. We kept up an incessant fire of grape on them, every round of which told well, as long as a single round remained. Previous to the natives deserting us they hid the priming pouches, and one man in particular, Kureem-buksh, a Durwan, appeared to keep up a constant communication with the enemy on the outside and keep them informed of our situation. Lieutenant Willoughby was so annoyed at this man’s conduct that he gave me an order to shoot him should he again approach the gate.

Lieutenant Raynor, with the other Europeans, did everything that possibly could be done for the defence of the magazine, and where all have behaved so bravely it is almost impossible for me to point out any particular individual.

However. I am duly bound to bring to the notice of the Government the gallantry of Conductors Buckley and Scully on this trying occasion. The former, assisted only by myself, loaded and fired in rapid succession the several guns above detailed, firing at least four rounds from each gun, and with the same steadiness as if standing on parade, although the enemy were then some hundreds in number and kept up a continual fire of musketry on us within forty or fifty yards. After firing the last round, Conductor Buckley received a musket ball in his arm above the elbow, which has since been extracted here; I, at the same time, was struck in the left hand by two musket balls which disabled me (or the time. It was at this critical moment that Lieutenant Willoughby gave the order for firing the magazine, which was at once responded to by Conductor Scully firing the several trains. Indeed, from the very commencement, he evinced his gallantry by volunteering his services for blowing up the magazine, and remained true to his trust to the last moment. As soon as the explosion took place, such as escaped from beneath the ruins, and none escaped unhurt, retreated through the sally port on the river face. Lieutenant Willoughby and I succeeded in reaching the Cashmere gate. What became of the other parties it is impossible for me to say. Lieutenant Raynor and Conductor Buckley have escaped to this station. Severe indisposition prevented my sending in this report sooner.

I have, etc.,

(Signed) G. Forrest, Lieutenant, Assistant Commissary of Ordnance.

N B-After crossing the river on the night of the 11th, I observed the whole of the magazine to be on fire, so that I am in hopes that little of the property fell into the hands of the enemy. Park Sergeant Hoyle was shot about eleven a.m. by the mutineers in attempting to reach the magazine to aid in its defence.

Lieutenant George Willoughby
Conductor Buckley, VC.

They became known as the Delhi Nine and to this day their names are still visible on a plaque albeit no longer easy to read, on the gate that once would have led to the Delhi Magazine.


Those who survived the explosion at the Magazine soon found their way to the Main Guard. Dazed and covered in dust, they would not find shelter here for long. An order had come from the Brigadier to withdraw Major Abbott’s men and Aislabie’s guns. As they approached the gateway, sepoys of the 38th rushed towards it, slamming it shut. They discharged a volley at a group of officers – and the other sepoys swiftly joined in, opening fire on the officers and the gathered civilians. In the ensuing pandemonium, Vibart scrambled up the ramp “which leads from the courtyard to the bastion above. Everyone appeared to be doing the same. Twice I was knocked over as we all frantically rushed up the slope, the bullets whistling past us like hail, and flattening themselves against the parapet with a frightful hiss.” Several officers were shot in the attempt and those that made it to the top did not hesitate long to jump out through the embrasures below and quickly scramble up the ditch. Above them, the cries of the ladies, who had taken shelter in the officer’s quarters above the gateway caused the men to stop – some of them quickly tied their belts together to make an impromptu rope for the ladies and then jumped into the ditch first to break the ladies’ falls. For some it proved unnecessary – the roar of the gun below and the incessant whistle of round shot above was enough to convince the ladies that now was not a time for manners and quite readily leaped into the ditch. All except one, Mrs. Forster, a fat and elderly woman refused to move, her screams and wails audible above the cacophony around her. Pleading was dispensed with by a swift push from one officer, sending the poor lady tumbling headfirst down into the ditch.
Hiding against the wall for a time until the sepoys lost interest and ran off to join in plundering the Treasury, with a supreme effort the party made it up the counterscarp which rose nearly perpendicular to the ditch, the ladies in their inconvenient attire having to make several attempts to get to the top.
“We now quickly ran down the short glacis and plunged into some thick shrubbery that grew at the bottom. Here we stopped to take a breath; but the sound of voices proceeding from the high road, which ran close by, induced us to hurry off as fast as possible. “ They were making their way Metcalfe House. Mrs. Forster, after her fall and a bullet wound to the forehead, they were obliged to abandon in the scrub brush, unable to carry the weight of her nearly unconscious form.
Sir Theo Metcalfe was not at home – his adventures will be related in a separate post – but his servants welcomed the fugitives kindly and the head bearer took them down to the safety of the tyekhanna. Exhausted by their plight, many of the party lay down on the floor and slept.

Flagstaff Tower

In her home, Harriett Tytler was starting to worry. Her husband had left hours ago, instructing his wife to stay in the house until he sent for her. But what she saw did not inspire her with confidence.
“Servants running about in a wild way, guns tearing down the main street as fast as oxen could be made to go, and Mrs. Hutchinson the judge’s wife without a hat on her head and her hair flowing loosely on her shoulders, with a child in her arms and the bearer carrying another, walking hastily in an opposite direction to the guns…” Harriet’s French maid, Marie, started locking up everything in the house, even the clean clothes the laundry man had just returned, declaring, “Madame, this is a revolution, I know what a revolution is.”
Her next door neighbours, the Hollands, now implored Harriett to come to their house with the children but initially Harriett refused – Robert had told her to stay home until he sent for her. But an order had come from Brigadier Graves that all the ladies must leave the cantonments and make their way to a rendezvous point, an order even Harriett could not disobey. Gathering up her 2 children and with Marie at her side, they left the house, never to see it again.
The rendezvous point chosen was the bungalow of the sergeant-major of the artillery, his wife welcoming as best she could all those who now filled up her house. It was a short respite – the Brigadier now ordered everyone to Flagstaff Tower.

Situated on the Ridge, this one roomed signal tower had been built by the British in 1828. Not designed as a shelter by any means it was certainly not meant for what was to befall it on the 11th of May. What remained of the civilian population and all the women and children from cantonments now flooded into the tiny space.

Flagstaff Tower, photographed by Felice Beato in 1858

Here they found the Brigadier waiting with his staff and four guns. The soldiers of the 74th, and what ever was left of the 38th made up a sobering welcoming party. The women and children were quickly shuffled off into the stifling hot tower to await further orders.
Like in Meerut, beyond bringing everyone together in one place, the officers appeared to be at a loss as to what to do next. The Brigadier, this late in the day, was still waiting for reinforcements from Meerut and whatever his reasoning may be he simply did not have the courage to abandon his post. Meanwhile, Harriett found time to be cross with her maid, who was using her time not in thoughts of gloom and doom but was flirting in French with the officers, leaving Harriett, 8 months pregnant in charge of the children four year old Frank who was hiding in her skirts and 2 year old Edith who refused to leave her mother’s arms. Pregnancy was no excuse and Harriett, children and all, soon joined the other ladies in handing up muskets and arms to the Christian Band boys who were on top of the tower, readying themselves for an attack. It was a far Brigadier Graves had got – bandsmen on the roof.
Captain Tytler and Captain Gardiner in the meantime had given up guarding the White House and together with the remains of the 38th, made their way to the Flagstaff Tower. With 80 men they arrived at the post, and the adjutant now told them what had happened in Delhi since the morning. He strode into the tower and telling his wife he would speak to her later, he asked where he could find the Brigadier. Finding him in the middle of the crowd, Tytler loudly asked blustering Graves, what exactly he intended to do? His wife gave an account of the conversation which followed.
“Stay here Tytler, and protect the women and children.”
Tytler replied, in the most emphatic manner, “It’s madness sir, have you any food?”
“No, Tytler.”
Have you any water?”
No, Tytler.”
“Then how do you propose to protecting the women and children with the two remaining guns ready to blow us up?”
The Brigadier, now forced to admit he had absolutely no idea what to do next, for if they showed their heads outside, they would surely be shot off. Captain Tytler staunchly proclaimed his men would never shoot them.
Some of the other officers now accused Tytler of having his head turned by his men, to which he replied,
“Look here gentlemen, it is not for you to say listen or don’t listen to Tytler. We cannot hold our post, therefore it is our duty to retreat.”
Wearied by this sudden and obvious voice of reason, the Brigadier entreated Tytler to go and ask his men what they would do.
He went out “bare-headed and empty handed and said to the men, ‘Listen to me my men, if you intend to do any harm to those within, let me be the first to fall, that they may know their fate. Bu if you will be true to your salt and will go with us wherever we tell you, then say so.’
Touching his hair as a sign of their fidelity, the men only had three demands.
That Tytler and not the Colonel command them;
That they be given water to drink;
And the two remaining guns go with them.
Tytler reported back to the Brigadier but the other officers were still not convinced.
Very well gentlemen,” said the Captain, “do just as you like, stay here and be butchered, but I will go with my family and stand my court martial. I will not stay here to see my wife and children butchered.”
The Brigadier sent Tytler back to his men, one more assurance perhaps would convince the others?
The men were growing tired of this procrastination – either the fugitives would leave at once or the men would not go with them. After all they reasoned, the mutineers were fresh and ready, they would have all the leisure time through the night to kill everyone at Flagstaff Tower.
It took a bullock cart full of the dead bodies of the men of the 54th killed earlier that day and covered up with a few ladies dresses to convince even the most hardened nay sayers that perhaps Tytler had a point. Vibart had intended the bullock cart to be sent to the cantonments but their presence served to remind the stumbling officers how precarious their position really was.
What followed was nothing less than a stampede, with “everyone rushing to their carriages to see who could get out first.”
Their escape among some other truely spectacular ones, will be described in the next chapter.

Captain Robert and Harriet Tytler


Annals of the Indian Rebellion, – Noah Alfred Chick,1859
An English Woman in India – Harriet Tytler, reprint, 1986
The Great Mutiny, India 1857 – Christopher Hibbert,1978
The Indian Mutiny – Saul David, 2003
The Red Fort – James Leasor, 1956
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 – Col. G.B. Malleson, C.S.I., 1891
The Great Fear of 1857 – Kim A. Wagner, 2010

All pictures are published in good faith by the author
from open sources.

2 thoughts on “11th May 1857, Delhi

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