What precipitated the rising in Gwalior was the news of the massacre at Jhansi, on the 14th of June. All events of the mutiny are without exception linked to one another and although signs had been rife in Gwalior throughout May, the leaders within the Contingent had managed to dupe the Brigadier into believing they would never rise. In their turn, the English officers had such confidence in their men that they believed Scindia and Macpherson were wrong to mistrust them. The scare on the 28th of May was shrugged off by Brigadier Ramsay as a misunderstanding and until the 14th of June, he felt there was absolutely nothing to fear of the Gwalior Contingent.

Gwalior Before the Mutiny

Gwalior, 1911

From Mrs. Ruth Coopland, the young wife of the chaplain, we get some descriptions of the Europeans at Gwalior and of the station. The Cooplands had but recently arrived at the station, on the 8th of January and were still finding their feet in the station when mutiny broke out.
After arriving at the house of Captain Campbell at midnight, the Cooplands were shown to their guest room by the head servant who also gave them some tea. Mrs. Coopland laments she had not the comfort of smoking cigars, like her husband had, to stave off the cold! Early the next morning, her first sight was that of Mrs. Campbell, “who had just returned from her drive, surrounded by about a hundred hens and cocks, fifty or sixty guinea fowls and ducks, geese, pigeons and turkeys in like proportion which she was feeding…” She also felt gratified by her husband’s first impressions of Gwalior, stating quite happily, it was “a pretty one.” She hoped sincerely they would find a nice house, like the ones the Campbell’s had and she approved whole-heartedly of their English furniture, complimented by curiosities from Burma, very like those her husband had brought to England.

Christ Church, Morar Cantonments, Gwalior. Established in 1775 this is the church Reverend Coopland would have known. Photograph from 1908.

In the evening, Reverand Coopland took his wife for her first drive around Gwalior in a pretty carriage, and she could satisfy herself with her first view of the station, it was indeed a pleasing one. the cantonments were well laid out and consisted of a row of large thatched houses each with its own compound, consisting of “pretty, gay gardens.” The wide road was lined with trees for an entire mile. Ruth was happy to see the road had an “English look” and all the people driving around looked pleasant while their children looked healthy and all so pretty. Even the church reminded her of an English one – such comforts when one was truly so far away from home.
And things only got better.
Their first week in Gwalior passed happily. They were invited to a dinner in honour of the visiting Agent to the Governor-General, Sir Robert Hamilton, and Ruth discovered to her delight that many of the attendees were Scots, like herself. Some of them even knew her father’s family in far away Dumfrieshire. A better beginning she could not have anticipated. There were further parties and dinners, and her husband was invited to a darbar held by Scindia from which he returned with ” a wreath of yellow jessamine, and some packets of sweetmeats and pan, and pieces of fine muslin scented with attar of roses…” Her husband reported he had seen many of the neighbouring chiefs and thought them “fine-looking men.”
Ruth was “astonished at the fine appearance of the sepoys whom I saw drilled and exercised every morning. They were tall, well-made and intelligent-looking men, many of them more than six feet high. They looked soldierly set in their gay regimentals.” Even their lines pleased her, with row upon row of neat, small houses on each side of a tree-lined road and kept scrupulously clean by an army of sweepers. Each regiment had its own lines and parade ground. She notes their officers treated them with much kindness and were even to be seen actively participating in the various religious festivals of their men.
Three times a day the great gun atop the hill at Gwalior Fort was fired to mark sunrise, noon and sunset, followed by the beating of the tattoo, much bugling and artillery practice.

A bungalow in Gwalior, 1908 – although built after the mutiny, this house, located close to the church, would have stood near where the Coopland’s had their home and was probably built in a similar style to the destroyed bungalows. Note the thatched roof.

The Cooplands quickly settled into life in Gwalior. They bought a share in the Mutton Club which ensured them a supply of mutton, and the Book Club, which considering the distance it was “the chief emporium of civilization” (Calcutta) was a good one, which kep them supplied with new publications of the latest issues of Blackwood’s Magazine and Frasers, and several Indian newspapers including the Delhi Gazette, The Friend of Indian and the Mofussilite. She objected to the Delhi Punch, calling it stupid and a bad imitation of the English original being predominately filled with “would-be witty sayings and pictures, which all referred to ‘griffs’ and their mistakes.

The Cooplands further subscribed to all the funds to be had in India, (some of them obligatory) including one for watering the roads to keep down the dust, and another for the band. The officers were putting together their own band and were ordering new instruments all the way from England – their intention was to teach the sepoys to play.
Gwalior was a delightful station, there was no doubt in Ruth Coopland’s mind. The rich flora thrilled her and the trees were beautiful. The bungalows were perfectly white-washed and many of their occupants had a perfect menagerie of pets including deer and doves. When she wasn’t walking the four-mile-long Course with the other ladies, Ruth Coopland amused herself with a little archery and horse riding.
The cantonment where the Cooplands lived was called Morar, and was six miles distant from the Scindia’s palace at Lashkar.

What impressed Ruth was how the English children were treated. They were kindly treated by servants and sepoys alike, and the children in their turn were very fond of their attendants, crying when they could not go with them. The officers sons where doted upon by the sepoys who humorously saluted the little charges as they rode through the cantonments on their ponies and would join in the children’s games with mutual delight. One of their favourites was a deaf man who amused the children by talking to them on his fingers and it was considered a great treat to ask him to spend the day with them. Such happiness Ruth had not as yet encountered anywhere in India.

Jayaji Rao of Scindia, ca. 1858
Photograph by Mr. Thurburn

As for Scindia himself, Ruth would only have seen him from afar and her opinions were doubtlessly formed from what she heard than what she herself saw calling him an “irascible, self-willed lad, very difficult to manage.” Unfortunately, she would have a bigger grudge to hold against him soon and the title “Saviour of India” with which he would be bestowed would be hard for her to stomach.
Taking advantage of the cold weather, the Meades and Murrays went out to live in tents some miles out of Gwalior. The ladies were relieved of their household cares, the men could shoot and fish and the children could scamper about in the fresh air. It wasn’t exactly camping as Ruth knew from England (there would still have been a perfect squadron of servants, the tents would have been the size of small houses and filled with every article of furniture imaginable), it was “not a bad attempt at gypsying.”
As the hot weather approached, Mrs. Alexander and her children went up to the hills and she talked of going to England the following year as her children had reached the ages of 8 and 6, ready to start their schooling at home. Major Hennessey’s younger sons returned to their school in the hills and Mrs. Stewart started to make plans to head up there herself.
Ruth busied herself setting up their house – they were fortunate to find a vacant bungalow to rent within a month of arriving in Gwalior and finally move out of the Campbell’s home. The bungalow was a large one, though not as big as the Campbell’s – but it had a broad gravel walk to protect against snakes, and it stood in the middle of a pretty compound, approached by a small avenue. The sitting rooms were divided by curtains hung up in archways and the walls were painted light yellow with white trimmings. The garden was beautifully laid out and filled with flowers and trees, while the walk was sheltered by an arch of vines. Ruth quickly had the tailors make up the carpets she had brought from Agra (they had been woven by the prisoners of the Agra jail) and she delighted when her piano arrived and their boxes of German and English books. When their English buggy arrived, everything was perfect.
In April the first of the hot weather began and Ruth noticed that everyone was looking a little less healthy and more people complained of fever. The church service was changed to half-past six both morning and evening but the evening service was soon moved to the mess-house which was cooler. She soon gave up her morning walk due to the heat but rose before dawn to make whatever use she could of the cooler hours before the sun rose. No one ventured out of their houses after 7am.
Those who could, built or repaired their thermantidotes, a contraption very much like a winnowing machine, covered at the top and sides with a frame of wet woven grass which cooled the hot air by evaporation. Those Campbells had a few of these devices made of brick which while they cooled the house down to 60°F when it was 120°F outside, they quite spoiled the look of their house. Everyone made use of punkahs and added khus-khus tatties – woven grass mats would be placed over the windows liberally doused in water. As the grass retained the water well, it could significantly drive down the indoor temperatures.

A thermantidote, or “East Indian Cooling and Ventilating Apparatus, 1846. These devices were invented well before the advent of electricity and had to be operated by hand.

All the gaiety of Gwalior disappeared with the advent of the hot weather, when the temperatures soared so high it could be compared to an iron foundry found in the bowels of Hell. And this was April – May and June promised to be worse. Ruth found herself feeling dull and listless, sitting day after day in her darkened house, with not a sound from outside after 7 am. The very birds, she said, appeared to have been scared into silence. The only break in the heat came from the frequent dust storms that blew over Gwalior, filling the air with fine dust and plunging the world for a moment into impenetrable darkness while the wind shrieked and howled like so many fiends.

Yet the Cooplands had a great many friends in Gwalior – Major Sheriff would often come and see them and lend them newspapers, he was hoping to get home soon and spent much time talking to the Reverand as to which route he should take to get back to England, and delighted Ruth by his vast knowledge of Indian birds and plants.
They dined with the Meades and the Murrays and with the Blakes. The Blakes had recently returned to Gwalior much to the delight of the men of the 1st Regiment which he had raised himself. “He was a kind, good man, tall and soldierly looking, with a very benevolent face, and a brave, excellent officer: he was great favorite with his men, who, during his absence ( on duty in Bundelkhand) used constantly to come to his brother officers to hear news of him; and even prayed for his safe and speedy return…”

Ruth also enjoyed visiting with Captain Pearson, one of the few unmarried officers. His house was one of two “pucka houses” built, of all things in the Elizabethan style by the architect of the church. Pearson was very musical and the evenings were passed pleasantly with much singing, playing the piano, concertina, violin and flute. It was at his house that Ruth recollected their last happy evening in Gwalior, before everything turned to gloom and misery.

Towards the end of April, with much fanfare, Scindia returned with Macpherson from Calcutta. Macpherson had with him his sister, Mrs. Innes whose husband had gone on to Lucknow. Scindia’s arrival also brought about the last grand military display in Gwalior and Ruth’s first chance to see the man for herself. At the ceremonious blowing up of a disused mud fort, a most striking exhibition of military workings, she saw him, “plainly dressed and not very kingly looking, or in any way striking.” She can perhaps be forgiven her estimations.
Captain Pierson and his wife arrived in Gwalior six weeks before the mutiny and shortly after a man appeared from Calcutta with a photographic apparatus, amusing the residents greatly by taking their portraits. Some of these were found again after the mutiny and sent to Agra. Captain Stewart and his family were taken in groups and sent their portraits home to England, where they arrived unscathed, several months after the mutiny. Other pictures were sadly found in the Bibighar.
The news of the mutiny in Meerut and the killings at Delhi served to cast a very sad feeling over the Europeans at Gwalior. Conversations were no longer about the dismal heat and where they planned to go to escape it, but consumed instead by studying the lists of the dead in the papers, hoping fervently there was no one they knew. While dining with the Stewarts in a party of nine, Ruth would late recall that by June only 3 of those guests would still be alive. Yet at the beginning of May, as horrible as the news was, Gwalior was still safe.

Ruth watched as Captain Pearson and Lieutenant Cockburn and half the cavalry and artillery regiments together with Captain Campbell in command of the Raja’s bodyguard rode off to Agra. She would also finally meet Scindia in person – he had started spending much of his time with Macpherson in cantonments – but all she could recall was his hand when it shook hers was cold.

Her husband too was filled with foreboding. He believed, as many chaplains and indeed civilians, that the mutiny was “God’s punishment upon all the weak tampering with idolatry and flattering vile superstitions. The sepoys have been allowed to have their own way as to this and that thing which they pretended was part of their religion, and so have been spoiled and allowed to see that we are frightened of them..” He thought the only way to crush mutiny was to act with decisive force and disband or destroy any regiment that showed even the slightest sign of a mutinous spirit which was not an uncommon opinion at the time. The Reverend believed that they all should have hastened without delay to the safety of Agra but it was too late for that now and sooner or later, they would be “cut up piecemeal.” He for one had no faith in the Contingent. He did not know what to do because now, there seemed nothing he could do.
Their very servants now began giving them “murderous looks” and Ruth caught her maid going through her things, trying on her jewellery as if it already belonged to her. The Reverend slept at night with a loaded rifle at his side, and before he left, Captain Campbell gave his wife a brace of loaded pistols, not so much to use against the mutineers but to use on herself.
By the end of May, the English community consisted of eleven officers, many of them with their wives and children, three surgeons and the wives and children of four officers who had been sent off with their regiments, plus four sergeants with their families.

The 28th of May

Gwalior Fort, from Hawkshaw’s India, 1881

We have heard now repeated over and over again, that the 28th of May was a failed rising. Brigadier Ramsay had been hearing reports from Scindia and from Macpherson not to trust the Gwalior Contingent but he himself had seen no outward signs of dissatisfaction – the English officers were far more attentive to their men in Gwalior than those, say, in Meerut, and this constant discourse had solidified in their minds they could hold their men.
At length on the 28th of May, Ramsay received intelligence that he regarded as alarming – some well-meaning Indian officers had told him outright, that the Contingent planned to mutiny that very night. He immediately issued directions, that, when the ladies were out for the usual evening drive, they should take their children with them and instead of returning home, proceed directly to the Residency – the home of Major Macpherson.

This melancholy order brought many of the ladies into a state of some despair, believing they would never see their husbands again as they were to remain behind in the cantonment to stand their duty and, if necessary, die at their posts. It did not help, when on their drive outside the cantonments that, “the outlook was not promising, for on the road they met a body of Maratha horsemen, who galloped wildly round the carriages, calling out, ” These people’s hearts are broken “. They began to fear for their own lives too, and entered the Residency with very sad forebodings.”
Although the Residency had been fortified to some extent, the occupants – Macpherson and his sister, were not prepared to meet with quite this many impromptu guests and the night would pass off without much comfort. Dinkar Rao was there to meet them and he immediately rode off to tell Scindia.
Scindia promptly came in person, with a strong body of his own guards and posted parties of them in and around the Residency for its protection. At the same time, he strongly recommended the ladies and their families should be brought the next morning to a large English mansion within the palace precincts as he would be better able to protect them there.
The next morning they all left in a body to the Palace.

“The sad cortege was headed by a carriage containing the Agent and his sister, Mrs. McLeod Innes, who had anxieties of her own—for her husband, Lieutenant (now General) McLeod Innes, V.C., R.E., was one of the Lucknow Garrison—and was preceded and followed by detachments of Sindhia’s body-guard. It had to pass through the crowded streets of the native town, and the roof of every house was covered, it is said, with “jeering and insulting spectators,”— a proof that, in electing to ” support the British Government,” Sindhia was risking the allegiance of his own people; a fact creditable to His Highness’s loyalty, but not encouraging to the fugitives.”

The party reached the precincts of the palace without any mishap. Although there had been no time to prepare the mansion for so large a gathering, every effort was made to provide them with some modicum of comfort. Unfortunately, although their host was friendly, his servants were not. Although Macpherson and those in his group received kind messages from Bazia Bai and the Maharani and food from their own table, the rest of the fugitives had to shift for themselves, relying on whatever the servants saw fit to give them. The chaplain, Reverend George Coopland and young Mr. Hennessey were further made to give up their arms which did not add to any feelings of goodwill.
That night, the Brigadier, his staff and artillery officers slept in front of the loaded guns in the lines and the night passed off quietly. Since nothing untoward had happened, Ramsay began to believe the alarm was hue and cry about nothing and he strongly disapproved of the ladies hiding in the palace grounds. In the morning, he ordered their return.
Dinkar Rao, Macpherson and others tried to stop the ladies from leaving but Mrs. Meade whose husband believed she was in danger by being that close to the palace demanded her return to the cantonment and rejoin him at all risks; her sister, Mrs. Murray determined to accompany her. “They returned accordingly and on reaching the cantonments received an ovation from the sepoys, who expressed the greatest delight that the ladies should have shown this mark of confidence in them.”
The obvious delight of the sepoys further fermented in Ramsay’s mind there was nothing to fear and all of this was nothing but a false alarm. He wrote his dispatch to the Agent at Indore – Lieutenant- Colonel Durand – who fully concurred with Ramsay’s views and even wrote a few lines praising the ladies!

“The Governor-General in Council [so runs the despatch] has viewed with the warmest admiration the calm confidence and decision, and the noble indifference to personal danger exhibited by Mrs. Meade and Mrs. Murray in disregarding the threatened outbreak, and returning to cantonments when they were informed by the Brigadier that their remaining at the palace was fraught with mischief.”

So the ladies and children returned to cantonments but their position was anything but pleasant, yet no one thought of sending them away. Day after day they received fresh tidings of mutiny and havoc, Ajmer, Nasirabad and Rohilkand were up in arms, and there was no more news from Cawnpore or from Allahabad. On the 3rd of June the 7th Regiment of the Gwalior Contingent rose in Neemuch. Then came Jhansi.

On the 12th of June 70 miles away from Gwalior, lay Jhansi, beleaguered and searching desperately for aid. A message reached Gwalior and the 4th Infantry Regiment quickly volunteered for service. As such, a wing was sent with a battery of artillery under the command of Captain John Murray. They set off in high spirits only to be apprised of the news, when within 30 miles of Jhansi that every European had been massacred and there was little point in them continuing on. Murray turned his force around and returned to Gwalior. “From this moment the men evinced a restless spirit, the artillery were in almost open mutiny, and the officers had the greatest difficulty in restraining the men from
breaking out on the march.”
However, as we know, the leaders within the Contingent had expressly forbid any regiment from rising on their own. They were to return to Gwalior and join the rest of the Contingent.

In his last letter home, Reverend George Coopland wrote with some hope:

“I hope now Delhi is taken things will take turn for the better…” The next day, he would find out Delhi had not been taken – it was a mistake in a telegram. Then Mr. Colvin wrote from Agra that until mutiny broke out in Gwalior, the women and children were to stay where they were. Shortly after, the telegraph with Agra was cut and the station was dependent on “rumour for intelligence.”

The Reverend was bound by duty to remain and his wife would not leave him. In hindsight, however, she writes with some bitterness, “if the women and children at the numerous small stations had been instantly sent away…their husbands and father would probably have had a better chance at escape. Instead of which, the lives of men, women and children were sacrificed, through the efforts to avoid arousing the suspicions of the troops…” She had already found out by then how right she was.

Sunday, the 14th of June

The Wounded Officer

The 14th of June started in the same way – the firing of the big gun at the Fort, Mrs. Campbell probably fed her flock of fowls and Mrs. Coopland prepared herself for another day of tedious sitting in a dark house. There was service as usual and the Holy Communion was administered by Reverend Coopland to all those who could make their way to the church in the growing heat.
In the afternoon, the mess-house and a bungalow were set on fire. The sepoys of the 4th Regiment worked with “good-humoured alacrity to extinguish the flames..” and everyone hoped it was either an accident or the work of some roving badmashes. The rest of the day passed without incident.
Back in the cantonments, Ruth Coopland and her husband were quietly going about their afternoon pursuits – she was reading letters from her sister on her wedding tour, her husband had laid down to take a little rest. He had just finished telling her the details of the Jhansi massacre, and they had looked at each other in some sorrow, unsure, how when the time came, they would bare their fate.

Suddenly a servant burst into the living room calling out that a little bungalow the Cooplands had but briefly lived in was in flames. The 1st Regiment was on hand, and they were very active in putting it out, or as Ruth sardonically notes, “or increasing the flames.”
The sparks shot up into the night sky and the strong, hot wind that had been blowing so persistently threatened to light up the entire cantonment. Up and down the road, the residents were dragging furniture out of their houses as their servants threw water on the thatched roofs and the Reverend ordered his servants to do the same. The road was crowded with people, the air filled with smoke as all around them, the flames roared and crackled. Ruth found her maid making bundles of her clothes which she had taken from her mistresses’ wardrobe and had spread out on the floor, the better to select what she wanted for herself. Ruth angrily ordered the woman to put everything back at which the maid insolently gave her keys to Ruth and told her to pack her things herself, she would be quite delighted to look after them when Ruth was gone.
When the fires were finally brought under control, the Reverend returned home, more tired than before.

After an early dinner a clerk from the church, named Collins, paid the Cooplands a visit. He was terribly agitated as he asked Coopland the order of service that evening, but he could finally be calmed down enough to explain the reason for his terror – he believed the Contingent would rise that night, and murder everyone. Premonition served him poorly and he would be one of the first civilians to be shot a few hours later.
Reverend Coopland advised his wife to put on a plain dark dress and jacket, she was not to wear any ornaments or anything that would show up in the dark or give the sepoys any reason to kill her. They then looked around their home and packed away one or two trifles that they prized and some important papers, which they put into small packets, and then sat down to wait.
The Reverend wrote a note to Captain Meade inquiring where he would like to hold the evening service seeing as the mess-house was a smouldering ruin, should it be held in the church? Captain Meade replied that in the current state of things, no one was likely going to go to church and they should just prepare themselves as best they could, whatever the end may be.
After coffee a note from Major Sheriff arrived and shortly after 5 o’clock, the major himself came over, wishing to see the Reverend. “He said it was a hard thing that we should stay to be butchered like sheep; for there was no doubt but that such would be our fate…” Mrs. Hawkins, he informed them had come in from Sipri to join her husband and the day before, she had given birth to a healthy baby. With much sorrow, he commented it was terrible that when mutiny came, the women and children could expect no mercy. The purpose for his visit, however, had been to give the Reverend some money he had forgotten to give at holy communion that morning. After spending some time walking around the Coopland’s garden in a long conversation with the Reverend Major Sheriff returned to his duty with Brigadier Ramsay. Ruth would never see him again.

The Reverend called together the servants and gave them each handsome presents in the form of money and he did not neglect to reward the six sepoys who had come to their house to protect it from fire. He then called for their carriage, and for the last time, Ruth and George Coopland drove through the cantonments.
There was scarcely anyone about but they met Brigadier Ramsay and Major Blake and a passing by a group of sepoys: Ruth exclaimed to her husband if the sepoys did not salute the storm was “nigh at hand.” The sepoys did not salute and the Brigadier and Major Blake looked at them with expressions of astonishment. The Cooplands returned home and found the 6 sepoys who formed their guard now took no notice of them at all.
It had been a trying day; Captain Murray’s baby boy had died that morning and Ruth could not get the sound she had awoken to, of the carpenter’s hammering as he made the babe’s coffin, out of her mind. She tried to remember everything her husband had taught her about firing a gun (she could load and fire it) as he had determined they would not die without a struggle.
It occurred to Ruth, that the cantonment she had so admired in January, was in fact one of the worst places to escape from. The houses that had so pleased her, were in rows on either side of a mile-long road, behind them, on one side, were the lines of the cavalry and artillery from which branched off the lines of the infantry. There were also lines where the cavalry stacks were kept and the magazine along with an enclosure for the elephants. On the other side of the road, behind those houses, was a steep river bank. At one end of the long road was a small bazaar and the Coopland’s house was near the end of the street while at the opposite end, was the cemetery, a parade ground and the gaol. It was indeed, a most unfortunate position.

The Cooplands, upon returning home, retired to their rooms, Ruth to settle in for the night. Suddenly a single gun fired.

Soon after 8pm, it was reported the artillery had loaded their guns without orders. Upon being asked by their officers the reason for their strange behaviour, the men shamefacedly replied they believed a European regiment was coming to cut them down. The officers did their best to pacify the men and then returned to their homes to wait out the night. An hour later, the whole Gwalior Contingent broke out in open mutiny. With loud shouts, tumult and much bugling in the lines through which the men were called to arms, the long awaiting uprising had come. Brigadier Ramsay ordered the officers who were with him to their lines. The firing began and the night sky was filled with a lurid red glare as one bungalow after another blazed up.

The Reverend rushed into his wife’s room and ordered her to dress as the maid and bearer ran in, calling out, “Fly! The sepoys have risen, and will kill you!” Ruth put on the clothes with the help of her maid, she had prepared to escape in ( a morning wrapper, a cloth jacket and a bonnet) and stuffed into her pockets a bottle of opium and aromatic vinegar, but left behind her watch and rings. Her husband took her by the hand and the Cooplands fled into the garden through the bathroom door.
Outside it was very dark – Ruth suggested they go to the Stewart’s house to see what they were doing. They entered the house to find Mrs. Stewart screaming in blind panic – her husband and Captain Hawkins had just ridden off to the lines. Mrs. Hawkins lay in the next room with a sergeant’s wife attending her newborn baby, the Stewart’s children were crying and clinging to the sobbing servants. While the Reverend tried to calm down the hysterical Mrs. Stewart, Ruth went in to comfort Mrs. Hawkins.
Suddenly a horse dashed into the compound, riderless. Mrs. Stewart screamed, “Oh! they have killed my husband!” The syce (groom) of the unfortunate Captain arrived moments later and told the Reverand, Stewart had indeed been shot but he was only wounded, he had been taken to the artillery lines, and he had a message for Mrs. Hawkins from her husband – she was to proceed without delay to the lines as the artillery had promised to protect her.

Every commanding officer – Major Blake of the 2nd, Sherriff of the 4th and Captains Hawkins and Stewart had been shot down.
Blake went to his lines on the first alarm and was shot at his main guard. His men, among whom Doctor Mackellar found him dying before leaving Gwalior, were weeping over him and professing with deep sorrow, it was the 4th Regiment that had murdered their officer. It turned out it wasn’t true, but his men still gave him a burial with their own hands.
No one can be sure where Captain Sherriff was shot, in the confusion no one saw him fall. Hawkins was killed in the cavalry lines, supposedly by the infantry. Lieutenant Proctor, of the 4th Regiment, who had the sick wife of an absent brother officer in his care, could not escape – he did the best he could to conceal himself through the night but was eventually found out and murdered in front of his wife by men of the infantry and cavalry. Four sergeants and two pensioners were killed in cold blood as were Mrs. Barrows, the wife of a conductor and Mrs. Pike, a sergeant’s wife.

“We Will Always be Faithful, Whatever Happens”

Mrs. Hawkins was carried out of the house in the bed she was laying in, followed by the nurse carrying the baby, and a large party of servants carried the other four children. Mrs. Stewart set off in a carriage with her two children, the Reverend trying to give her whatever comfort he could. As she watched them leave, Ruth remembered what Mrs. Stewart had told her after their first flight on the 28th of May. A sepoy had said to her when she came back to her house,
“Why did you leave your husband, Memsahib? That was not brave,; but you women are so weak and faint-hearted, you take flight at nothing. See! the Sahib trusted us; we will always be faithful, whatever happens.

That faithfulness would now be put to the test.

The Coopland’s syce now appeared with the buggy upon which sat their kitmatgar, very excited and holding in each hand a tulwar. He advised them to cross the bridge and follow the road to Lashkar, but the syce said it was guarded with guns and sentries. They decided then to follow Mrs. Stewart to the artillery lines, the oaths of faithfulness ringing in their ears.
Just as they were turning towards the artillery lines, a young sepoy came running towards them, weeping and sobbing as he ran, “They have shot the Sahib!” he wailed and ran off into the darkness before the Reverend could speak to him. All around them the night rang with volleys of musketry, bugles, shots and horrible screams, and some of the bungalows were burning. They turned off towards the house of Major Blake.

In the house, they found Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Raikes, Dr. Kirk and his wife Ellen, none of them knowing what to do. Major Blake had ridden off to the lines the very instant the bugle had sounded. Although it was quieter here, the party realised they were trapped. It was now 10 o’clock and although Dr. Kirk’s guard promised to stay with them, every road was guarded and flanked by guns, and the cavalry was riding about. The guard suggested the party had better hide in the garden as the sepoys would soon be coming to loot the house and if they found them inside, they would surely be shot.

There was no way out of the cantonment now- only those who had fled in the first ten minutes of the outbreak had made it safely across the nullah before the sepoys had placed guards along the bank, everyone who was found in the houses on the side of the lines was either dead or hiding. Realising their lives were forfeit no matter what they did, the party followed the advice of the guard and went out into the garden.
Mrs. Raikes and her baby were taken by her servant to hide somewhere else, the Kirks with their little boy, decided to return home. Reverend Coopland still had his rifle.
Mrs. Blakes kitmatgar, Muza, took them to a dark corner of the garden where they lay on the ground behind a bank, well shaded by trees. He brought a large shawl for the Reverend who was injudiciously dressed in a white suit. The guard, men of the 1st Regiment, although not hostile in any way, did nothing to help them, but seemed to delight in bringing them various reports – Mrs. Campbell was lying dead in her compound, the Brigadier was shot dead on the bridge, Dr. Mackellar had been killed in one of the hospitals, Major Blake was killed. Only the last one, it turned out, was true.

An hour later just as the moon broke through the clouds, a hundred sepoys descended on the Campbells house, which adjoined the Blakes. The house Mrs. Coopland had so admired was set upon in a frenzy; she could hear the sepoys tearing down the doors and windows, and smashing the glass and furniture while others loaded carts with plunder; then they set fire to the bungalow, their wild shouts of glee mixing with the crackling flames. They then turned their attention to the Blakes’ house.
Ruth could hear the sepoys looking for them; the moonlight glittering on their bayonets. Finding no one they turned returned to the bungalow and proceeded, after plundering it, to set it on fire. Muza crept up to the fugitives and told them they could hide in his house, saying when they got there, he would get them some native clothes to put on.
Gratefully, they scurried through the darkness, following their saviour.

The house was a small low hut close to the garden and although they passed close to the sepoys, they were so engrossed in their work of destruction, they did not see them. The party crouched close together, scarcely daring to breathe. Muza barred the door and fastened it shut with a chain. It was but one house in a long line of servant’s quarters.

Another half hour passed.

The sepoys, in their fury at not finding any Europeans, now started raiding the servant’s houses. They entered Muza’s house by the kitchen, without realising that just beyond the thin wooden partition, their prize lay hiding. Muza went up to them, protesting his mother lay ill in the next room and their noise was frightening her. They roughly asked him if he was hiding any feringhis – Muza swore on the Koran he was hiding no one. The sepoys took his cookware and stole what they found in his house, all the while Muza begged them to leave. Outside again, they saw the locked door and broke it open the butts of their rifles – Ruth expected them to charge, but they didn’t. The hut was so dark they could not see the fugitives huddled in the shadows.
The sepoys demanded a light but brave Muza refused, “You see, they are not here: come, I will show where they are.” He slammed the door shut and barred it again. He then led the sepoys off in the direction of the stables, where a few minutes later they heard the horrible shrieks of a dying horse. The sepoys, satisfied there was no one there either, threatened Muza they would return shortly and then, in the morning, they would search the dark room themselves.

Muza waited until they left and then ran back to his house. He opened the door and told the party they needed to move – he would take them to the bearer’s house – who would certainly not betray them – but they must hurry, the sepoys would be back soon and they would kill him for concealing them.

Time had passed quickly in that stifling hut – as they emerged from the hideout, Ruth saw the first smatterings of dawn on the horizon. They had withstood the terrible night. Muza brought them to the bearer’s house and they lay down on the ground parched with thirst. From somewhere they heard a baby crying – and a few moments later, Mrs. Raikes appeared, trying desperately to stifle the baby’s fretting. In the house, the bearer’s wife tried to help her.

As the light became brighter, the sepoys, as promised returned. They made short work of Muza’s house and then, alerted by the crying baby, ran over to the bearer’s hut. Inside, it was till too dark to see anything but they demanded to know whose child was crying. The bearer’s wife replied she did not know and they called for her to bring it out. Mrs. Raikes, mad with terror, grasped at her child, screaming, “They will kill my child!” But there was nothing for it, one of the women brought the child outside.
“The sepoys yelled, ‘Feringhi, hi! Kill them!’ and I saw through the doorway a great number of them loading their muskets. They then ordered the woman to bring out a large quantity of plunder that lay on the floor of the hut, pictures, plate & c., she took them out slowly, one by one, and gave them to the sepoys.”

The Cooplands, Mrs. Charlotte Blake and Mrs. Raikes stood close together in a far corner of the hut, each taking up a piece of wood that lay on the ground, thinking for a moment this would give them a little defence. The Reverend still had his gun but Ruth could not see it, it was still too dark to even see each other’s faces. Suddenly the sepoys pulled up the roof of the hut and fired a volley into the middle of the room. At the first shot, the Reverend grabbed his wife’s hand and said ” We will not die here, let us go outside.” Dropping their bits of wood, Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Raikes and Ruth clasped their hands and cried out, “Mut maro, mut maro!” (Don’t kill us!). The sepoys looked at the party and laughed.
“We will not kill, the memsahibs,” they said, “only the sahib.”
The ladies were quickly surrounded by a group of sepoys and the Reverend was singled out, standing alone now gun in hand. The sepoys fired at him.

Instantly the sepoys dragged the women to the hut of a sweeper and thrust them inside, saying it was good enough for them. Ruth heard two shots – she later learned her husband had managed to get off just those two before the sepoys turned their guns on him, and volley after volley rang out in the morning light, telling Ruth her husband was dead.

The ladies lay crouched on the ground, unable to move. Ruth saw a little mouse, with its eyes shining brightly, creep out of a corner and stare at them, it was, she noted, not afraid of them at all. The door opened and in was thrown Mrs. Campbell, her hair flying wildly wearing a native dress, her own clothes had been torn from her. Then Mrs. Kirk stumbled in, grasping her little boy – she had watched as the sepoys first shot and then beat her husband’s brains out with the butts of their rifles. They had spared her son Alexander for on account of his long ringlets and girlish face had mistaken him for a girl. Mrs. Kirk’s arms were badly bruised and swollen from where the sepoys had torn off her bracelets, her finger nearly broken from the force they used to take off her wedding ring.

Dr. Winlow Kirk had served as a medical officer for nearly 20 years, first with the Bundelkhand legion, then as medical adviser to Sir Charles Napier, then with the troops at Bareilly, with the European artillery at Ferozepore, before joining the Gwalior Contingent as superintending surgeon. He was so much liked by not only the Europeans but by the sepoys who had ministered with so much care when they were ill or injured, it was generally thought that if anyone would escape from Gwalior, it would be Dr. Kirk. When Mrs. Kirk saw them kill her husband, she had cried out, ” Kill me too!” but the sepoys answered, “No, we have killed you, in killing him.”

Mrs. Raikes, Mrs. Kirke and her son, Mrs. Campbell, Ruth Coopland, and Mrs Blake stood outside, surrounded by men of the 2nd Infantry. True to their word, they took the ladies to their lines. On arriving, several of the sepoys crowded around Mrs. Blake and said with some emotion, they would take her to her husband. His horse lay dead but a few feet from where she stood. Recognising the horse, she suddenly fell over, faint. The sepoys gently took hold of the poor woman and laid her on a charpoy, another one ran to fetch her some water. When she recovered, a native officer of her husband’s regiment approached her, and on bent knee, told her the Colours were gone, tears in his eyes.
“It is your fault!” she retorted, reproaching the man with as much courage as she could muster, “Where is he? WHy did you kill him?” The officer replied the major had been killed by the men of the 4th Foot and he had helped to bury him.
Mrs. Proctor and Mrs. Gilbert now joined the little group.

The Waiting Ends

As for the other Europeans in Gwalior that fateful night, their accounts were no less harrowing however, many had affected their escape from the cantonments in the first ten minutes after the first shots were fired and had been hospitably treated by Scindia.
However, they gave up for lost all those that had been left behind and thus it is also possible Scindia was not expecting there to be any more survivors.

Dr. Mackellar and Captain Ryves escaped, with the erstwhile doctor and Ryves galloping off on their horses, hardly stopping until they reached Agra. Ryves had been sent from Nowgong to Jhansi and had escaped from his own men a few days earlier, he was not going to get caught off guard again.
Lieutenant Longueville Clarke, though wounded in the lines managed to get away with Lieutenant Pierson. Pierson’s wife was protected by the sepoys and they brought her to him, carrying her seven miles to the palace in an improvised stretcher made of horse cloth which they slung between their muskets. The Piersons had been in Gwalior barely six weeks before the mutiny broke out and he was serving as adjutant to Major Blake. It is possible as the men did not know him, they saw no reason to kill him or his wife.

The Death of Lieutenant Proctor
Protecting the women and children proved to be the undoing of Lieutenant Archibald Proctor. When the mutiny started, Proctor was in his bungalow with his wife and Mrs. Gilbert, the wife of an absent officer. She was heavily pregnant and daily expecting her confinement. He had initially planned to ride off with his wife on horseback, but he felt obliged to stay back with Mrs. Gilbert who could not ride and her servants refused to give her her carriage. Proctor’s servants hid them as best they could, in the bearer’s hut.
All night, little party – Proctor, his wife, Mrs. Gilbert, her child and a nurse, lay crouched up in a dark corner of the hut. As day broke, they were discovered.
A sepoy came to the hut, and after extracting what little money they had to bribe the rest, he said to help them escape, he then told them the sepoys had made a vow that the women and children would not be hurt. When the sepoys had gone, Mrs. Proctor endeavoured to hide her husband under a counterpane and then laid herself down over him. It was the best she could do, but it was not enough.
Soon after, eight sepoys came in and searched around the hut. They brought with them chapatis and water and told the women not to be afraid, They did not want to touch them. Mrs. Proctor recalled, “A dread natural calm came over. I could have done anything then.I spoke to them all quietly, ate and drank what they brought, and them I was not afraid. They asked me who I was, I told them, they said at once, ‘Where is your Sahib?’ I said, ‘Oh! If only you could tell me, I should be so happy.’ ‘Where is he?’ Ah, they knew too well. “
After two or three hours of the most agonizing suspense, Mrs. Gilbert and the nurse were taken out of the hut. Mrs. Proctor continued to sit, quite still. “Dreadful men came in, and said get up, and go out, they came quite close to me with their muskets. I said, ‘Don’t kill me, what will you do with my sahib if you find him?’ ‘Kill him,’ was the reply at the same time, telling me to rise. I knew not what I did as I went out, only one thought alone possessed me that they were going to kill him!”
Outside, the compound was full of sepoys loading their muskets. Mrs. Proctor in turn, threatened, pleaded, begged and promised everything she could but it was all invain. The sepoys laughed at the crying woman – one of them took her by the hand and led her away.
I heard shots, – I turned and saw him running some 40 yards, without being hit. I could look no longer and just as I turned away they said ‘fallen’ (Gera)…Oh that awful moment.”
Lieutenant Proctor had taken his last chance – as his wife left the hut, he threw off the covering and ran with as much speed as he could, followed by the bullets of his men. He managed to reach a low mud bank but there, unbeknownst to him, a sowar stood with his tulwar unsheathed. A bullet struck Proctor in the leg and as scrambled to make it to the bank, the sowar raised his tulwar and struck the lieutenant across the head and face. With a sigh, Proctor fell to the ground, dead. The next day three of his servants buried his body in the graveyard by the church.
Mrs. Proctor and Mrs. Gilbert, along with the nurse and child, were taken the lines of the 2nd Regiment. A few moments later, the men of Proctor’s regiment came and insisted the ladies come to their lines, they were now responsible for the widow. The men of the 2nd ordered a carriage be got ready for the women and they could take go where ever they pleased. Into the carriage the sepoys put not just Mrs. Proctor and Mrs. Gilbert, and her child, and the nurse, but Ruth Coopland, Mrs. Kirke and her son, Mrs. Raikes, Mrs. Blake and Mrs. Campbell, the former “Belle of Gwalior”, who had been so admired, not just for her beauty but for her small, delicate feet that looked so pretty in native shoes. The faithful Mirza drove the carriage and two sepoys ran alongside as far as the town.

The ladies would now have to make their way to Agra – their first call would be at the gates of Scindia’s palace but the guard roughly told them he would not see them – as it transpired, he was never told they were there.


Mrs. Hennessey was sheltering Mrs. Christison and her child and Mrs. Ferris who had been sent to Gwalior by her husband from an outstation with her children. Mrs. Hennessey’s son, a very able lad of just 17, upon hearing the first shots, insisted the ladies leave the house immediately and protected not just them but his mother and his little sister all the way to Scindia’s palace. Mrs. Christison and Mrs. Ferris were barefoot and bonnetless, so determined had young Hennessey been, they did not even have time to put on their shoes.

The Meades house was fortunately located on the banks of the nullah. Mrs. Murray, whose son had been buried that very morning, was seeking solace from her sister, Mrs. Meade, so the two ladies were together once again when the mutiny broke out. They had just been planning to go to bed when the unmistakable sounds of gunfire caused them to grab their children, and with some servants following, ran out and crossed the nullah at a point where the water was fortunately shallow. They hid in a small guardhouse where after a few anxious hours, their husbands found them. Escorted by men of their own guard, they reached the palace without any difficulties. Here they found Major Macpherson and his sister, Mrs. Innes, Macpherson greatly agitated that so many people had been left behind. From the palace, they could see the bungalows in the cantonment burning and the sepoys scouring the banks of the river looking for fugitives. It seemed clear that no one else could have survived. There was also nothing Scindia could do without enraging the people around him.

Gwalior City from the river

Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Stewart

The next time Ruth Coopland saw Mrs. Hawkins it would be in Agra. She had with her only three of her children and sad little Charlotte Stewart. The tale she had to tell, is perhaps one of the most shocking of the mutiny in Gwalior.

A bearer or valet, photograph by John Sache

From the loyal artillery, there was no sign. This became clear as soon as the ladies arrived in the lines. Instead of the protection which had been promised, the ladies were taken to a hut where they found Captain Hawkins. In the morning, the rage of the sepoys was in no way spent – they rushed into the hut and shot Captain Hawkins, the same bullet killed Mrs. Jane Stewart who was clinging to his arm. They then killed the nurse, who as she fell, crushed the little Hawkins baby beneath her. A blow from a tulwar killed Mrs. Stewart’s two-year-old son Robert Walter, and one of Mrs. Hawkins’ boys. Her other three children, two of whom were boys were spared – probably because the sepoys did not recognise them, like the Kirke’s boy, as males. When the sepoys left, Mrs. Stewart’s quick-thinking bearer concealed the remaining children, including Charlotte Stuart on the roof of the hut.

Mrs. Hawkins still barely able to move begged the sepoys for some water. When they refused, she managed (remember, she had given birth not 48 hours earlier) to crawl down to the river to get some water for the children – a sepoy, kindlier than the rest, helped her. Through the Stewarts loyal bearer, she managed to get a note to Colonel Filose, who lived in the Lashkar, one of the Filose brothers who were sons of a famous French officer who had in the old days trained the Mahratta troops. Ever since a Filose had always commanded the Raja’s personal troops. The colonel wasted no time in sending a cart for Mrs. Hawkins and the children and through his great personal influence ensured they reached Scindia’s palace unharmed.

Captain Willliam Stewart lay all Sunday night concealed in another hut, wounded but not mortally. The faithful bearer attended him and even managed to get him some milk and water. In the morning, the poor captain asked after his wife – the sepoys told him she was killed but neglected to mention his daughter was still alive. He looked at the men and said, now that his wife was dead, he no longer cared to live, they could do as they wished. The sepoys took him out of the hut to the stables where the elephants were kept, propped him up against a wall, and shot him.

Little Charlotte Stewart remained in Agra Fort under the care of kind friends of her late parents – but she never smiled and from being the merriest child Ruth had known in Gwalior, she had turned into a mere ghost of her former self, a melancholy, grave little waif who clung to the bearer who had saved her life – the man never left her side and was the only one she would allow near her. One day, upon seeing Mrs. Blake in the fort, she asked her if she had any photographs of Gwalior.

Mrs. Ferris would wait anxiously for news of her husband. The last she had heard, he was riding to Gwalior with another young officer, to join her as his own station had become insupportable but since then she had not been able to find anything out.
On their way, Ferris’ gharry was stopped by villagers who dragged the men out, tied them to a tree and flogged them. Ferris did not survive the beating, but the young officer managed to make his way to Agra, where he found Mrs. Ferris and told her what had happened to her husband.

For some, the Gwalior Mutiny was over – for others, it had barely begun.
The story of Gwalior is but partly told – next we shall further explore the very dangerous game skillfully played by Scindia and Dinkar Rao in thwarting the Gwalior Contingent.
In our continuing series on Ladies in the Mutiny, we shall also return to the story of Ruth Coopland.

Memorial Tablet in Dundurn Chapel (Scotland)

Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM STEWART, ESQUIRE, of Ardvorlich.  Eldest son of the late Major W. M. Stewart, of the Bengal Army, Lieutenant in the Hon’ble East India Company’s Bengal Artillery and Captain Commandant of a battery in Scindiah’s contingent who was severely wounded in the execution of his duty at Gwalior on the night of the 14th of June 1857, by the mutinous sepoys and by them murdered on the following morning, aged 30 years.  Also to the memory of his wife JANE TURNLY, aged 27 years, youngest daughter of the late Hill Willson, Esquire, Lieutenant in the Hon’ble East India Company’s Bengal Engineers and their son ROBERT WALTER aged 2 years who were killed on the night of the 14th idem.  Among the first victims of the Mutiny at Gwalior in the East Indies where the remains of both the parents and child lie interred.  This tablet is erected by his widowed mother and her children.

Memorials in Gwalior Cemetery

“To the memory of Rev. George William Coopland M.A. Late fellow of St. Catherine’s College Cambridge and H.E.I.C.’S Chaplain. He was killed at Gwalior by the Sepoys on the morning of 15th June 1857 in the 30th year of his age. He had been chaplain of Gwalior for 6 months. This monument was erected by his widow after the retaking of Gwalior June 1858.”

“Sacred to the memory of Major Muirson Thrower Blake Com’d’g 2nd Reg’t Gwalior Conting’t who was shot by the mutineers at Gwalior on entering the lines of the Reg’t on the night of 15th June 1857. His remains were interred here by some Sepoys of his Regt. This monument is raised by his afflicted widow.”

“Sacred to the memory of Kinloch Winlaw Kirk M.D. Superintending surgeon Gwalior contingent. Shot by mutinous sepoys on the 15th June 1857 Aged 45 years.”

“Sacred to the memory of Archibald Proctor Lieut. 39th Regt. N.I. Died at Gwalior June 15th 1857 Aged 29.

A Lady’s Escape from Gwalior and Life in the Fort of Agra During the Mutinies of 1857-R.M. Coopland
Memorial of Service in India, from the Correspondence of the Late Major Samuel Charters Macpherson, C.B., edited by his brother, William Macpherson (1865)
General Sir Richard Meade and the Feudatory States of Central and Southern India -Thomas Henry Thornton, C.S.I, D.C.L (1889)
The Revolt in Central India 1857-59, compiled in the Intelligence Branch – Lieutenant- Colonel W. Malleson (1908)
Gwalior State Gazetteer, Vol. 1- Text and Tables – compiled by Captain C.E. Luard M.A. (Oxon) I.A. Superintendent of Gazetteer in Central India, assisted by Rai Sahib Pandit Dwarka Nath Shopuri, State Gazetteer Officer (1908)

Selections from the Letters, Dispatches and Other State Papers, Preserved in the Military Department of the Government of India 1857-58 – edited by George W. Forrest B.A. (1912)


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