The Indian (Sepoy) Mutiny.

Sun, 05/10/1857 - Sun, 06/20/1858
Lard, Tallow or Beeswax? ©

When in March 1857, Sepoy Mangal Pandey attacked British officers at the military garrison in Barrackpore, he was arrested and then executed on 8 April. Later that month, Sepoy troopers at Meerut, Bengal, refused to use the new Enfield rifle cartridges, and, as punishment, were given long prison sentences. This punishment only served to incense their fellow Sepoys, who rose on 10 May 1857, shot their British officers, and marched to Delhi.

The apparent cause of the revolt was the introduction of the new Enfield rifle and its cartridges. When loading, a Sepoy had to bite off the ends of a greased gunpowder cartridge to access the powder. A rumour spread among the Sepoys that the grease used was a mixture of pigs’ and cows’ fat; thus, to place it in the mouth was perceived as an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. There is no conclusive evidence that either of these materials was actually used on any of the cartridges in question. The British did not pay enough attention to the growing level of Sepoy discontent, although they did attempt to advise that the cartridges were in fact proofed with beeswax and not (pig) lard or (cow) tallow and altered the drills to use fingers, instead of teeth, to tear the cartridge.

The Indian Mutiny, also called the Sepoy Mutiny, was to be an unsuccessful rebellion against British rule in India although it spread to Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow. In India today it is often described as the First War of Independence. The British had increasingly usurped control of Hindu princely states, despite their alliance with the British, in order to replace the Indian aristocracy with British officials. The 'Doctrine of Lapse' in the late 1840s prohibited a Hindu ruler, without a natural heir, from nominating a successor. When he eventually died or abdicated, the British administration seized his lands and denied any nominated 'adopted son' his succession or inheritance.

During Lord Dalhousie's governorship of India, from 1848–56, there was a major effort towards emancipating Indian women and a bill was introduced to permit the remarriage of Hindu widows. The Indian population increasingly believed that the British were intent on breaking the grip of the Hindu caste system and the influential senior caste, the Brahmans, were extremely discontent as they lost both their lucrative positions and the incomes that came with them. The introduction of a Western education system was a direct challenge to orthodoxy, both Hindu and Muslim. As western missionaries increased conversion of Indians to Christianity the British legislated to ensure that Christians were not excluded from sharing in the family estate with their Hindu relatives.

When the Meerut Sepoys arrived in Delhi, there were no European troops in the city and they were soon joined by the local Delhi Sepoy garrison. They very quickly restored the former Mughal Emperor, Bahādur Shah II. The seizure of Delhi encouraged the mutiny to spread throughout northern India. However, with the exception of Bahādur Shah II and his sons and Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the deposed Maratha Peshwa, none of the important Indian princes were to join the mutineers. The Mutiny would last for two long and tragic years.