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Far-sighted Englishmen, notably Sir Henry Lawrence had given warning of the coming storm, the British Government was completely taken by surprise at the outbreak of the Great Revolt in May, 1857.


  1. The Revolt was due to many causes of these the most important undoubtedly was the discontent of the sepoys of the Bengal army. 

A sepoy became a non-commissioned officer after twenty years of service and a commissioned officer at the age of about fifty-five. The highest post that he could reach was that of Subedar-Major or Risaldar-Major. Such unfavorable terms of service found neither evoke loyalty nor produce any sense of discipline in the sepoy army. Sir Henry Lawrence had the foresight to strike a note of warning against this system. “The question is only whether justice is to be gracefully conceded or violently seized.”


The high caste Brahmanas and Rajputs of Avadh, North-Western provinces and Bihar (present Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) who were recruited in large numbers to the Bengal army, were very particular in observing their caste rules and regulations. Even while camping they would have their own separate cooking pots and lotas. When, during the Sikh Wars, Sir Harry Smith lost his baggage and the three regiments under his command lost their lotas and cooking pots, the sepoys preferred to remain hungry for twenty-four hours rather than partake of the meals prepared by men of  castes. 

       3. SERVICE RULES :

In 1824, the 47th Regiment refused to serve in Burma and was disbanded. Again, the 38th Regiment refused to serve in Burma in 1852. The sepoys particularly objected the passing in 1856 of the General Service Enlistment Act by which every recruit had to serve wherever required and not in India alone. They also resented the government order which stopped the practice of sepoys being invalidated after fifteen years service. 

According to the new rule,  a sepoy was not permitted to retire on invalid pension but was retained with the colours and employed on ordinary cantonment duty. The sepoy had thus to serve in the army for a longer period and, if necessary outside India. These two fundamental changes in the rules of recruitment created sharp discontent.


British historians have expressed the view that one of the causes of the Great Revolt of 1857 was the disparity in numbers between European and Indian troops (2,33,000) Indian and 45,322 British soldiers and the faulty distribution of troops. They have pointed out that Delhi and Allahabad were held by sepoys and except for some British troops at Danapur, there were no British soldiers between Allahabad and Calcutta. It is true that the disparity in numbers and the faulty deployment of troops facilitated the spread of the Revolt, but then this could hardly be regarded as one of its causes. The main impulse for the revolt sprang from the growing momentum of discontent.


More than anything else, it was the annexation policy of Lord Dalhousie which created widespread resentment. One by one the petty states as well as powerful independent kingdoms were swept away and absorbed into the British empire in India the Punjab and Lower Burma by the right of conquest; Avadh on the plea of maladministration; and Jhansi, Satara, nagpur etc., by the Doctrine of Lapse.

Dalhousie refused to grant to Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the Peswa, the pension of rupees 8 lakes on the death of Peswa baji Rao. Perhaps Dalhousie aimed at the political unification of the country. Nevertheless, the pace of conquests and annexations was so rapid that it created uneasiness in the minds of Indians. 


Land owners were antagonized by Lord Bentinck’s resumption of rent-free tenures; due to this measure, the landlords who had lost their title-deeds were deprived of their estates. The proceedings of the Inam Commission at Bombay (setup to enquire into rent-free tenures), resulted in the confiscation of 20,000 estates. A further blow came from the strict enquiry made by Coverly Jackson, the Chief Commissioner of Avadh, into the titles of the taluqdars, the hereditary revenue collectors of Avadh.

       7. GREAZED CARTRIDGES: In this critical state of affairs, a rumour ran through the sepoy army that the cartridges served out to the Bengal Regiments had been greased with the fat of cows, the sacred animal of the Hindus, and the lard of pigs, regarded as unclean by the Muslims. There is evidence that a disastrous blunder had really been made in this regard. The blunder was quickly remedied, but it was already too late. The Hindus and Muslims alike were convinced that it was a deliberate attempt of the British Government to hurt their religious feelings.


On May 10, 1857, three native regiments mutinied at Meerut (the largest military station in Northern India) and marched to Delhi where more sepoys joined them. They proclaimed Bahadur Shah, the titular king of Delhi, as the emperor of India. Once more the Mughal flag fluttered on the ramparts of the Red Fort

A rallying centre and a traditional name were thus given to the Revolt, which now spread like wild fire through Avadh, the north-Western provinces, and Bihar. Beginning as a revolt of the army the movement soon developed into a war to rid the country of its foreign rulers.


The main interest of the war centres on the cities of Kanpur, Lucknow, Delhi, Jhansi and Gawlior, Kanpur contained one of the great native garrisons of India. At Bithur, not far of (about 20 km). was the palace of NANA SAHIB, the heir of the last Peswa. When the sepoys at Kanpur  revolted on June 4, Nana Sahib came forward to assume the leadership The Europeans shut themselves in an entrenchment which bore a siege for nineteen days. TANTYA TOPE, the military adviser of nana Sahib showed skill and energy in launching attacks. In June 27, the Europeans surrendered and were permitted to leave for Allahabad under a safe conduct, but were treacherously murdered.

Sir Henry Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner of Avadh, had foreseen the storm. He fortified and provisioned the Residency at Lucknow and retired there with all the European inhabitants and a weak British regiment. On July 2, he was wounded by a shell and died two days later. The garrison held out against enormous odds. 

The sepoys in large numbers rallied to the support of The Begum Of Avadh, but they could not capture the Residency Meanwhile a small British force had secured Allahabad enabling Major-General Havelock to advance at the head of a large force on July 7 for the recapture of Kanpur. After a serious of engagements Kanpur was taken on July 17. On July 25 Havelock advanced from Kanpur for the relief of the Residency. The advance was checked by strong opposition at Unnao and Bashirat Ganj; Tantya Tope threatened Kanpur again; the three regiments at Danapur mutinied and tried to cut the British lines of communication. Havelock, however, overcame these difficulties. He defeated Tatya Tope’s troops at Bithur on August 16. Tantya Tope escaped to kalpi, where he soon gathered many recruits.

British troops had advanced from Ambala and Meerut and taken up position on the Ridge on June 8 to begin the siege of Delhi. Sepoys, who had flocked to Delhi in large numbers, launched many fierce attacks, but failed to dislodge the British troops on the Ridge. The British had one great advantage in their firm grip over the Punjab which became an admirable base of operations for the capture of Delhi.

 IN THE PUNJAB the revolt had been met by swift anticipated measures of repression and disarmament, carried out by Sir John Lawrence and his lieutenants Herbertt Edwards and John Nicholson. In the middle of August, Nicholson arrived with reinforcements from the Punjab.

On September 14, the assault was launched and after six days desperate fighting Delhi was recaptured. Nicholson fell at the head of the storming party. The sons of Bahadur Shah were shot dead by Major Hodson, while the old Mughal emperor, after a trial of doubtful legality, was sent as a state prisoner to bangoon, where he lived till 1862.

IN LUCKNOW,  Sir Colin Campbell out his way into Lucknow and effected the final deliverance of the garrison on November 17. Tantya Tope then carried out his famous counter-offensive.

Sir Colin Campbell rushed down from Lucknow in time to save Kanpur and to defeat Tatya Tope’s troops on December 6. Sir Colin Campbell then regrouped his forces and finally reoccupied Lucknow in March, 1858.


Sir Hugh Rose with an army from Bombay was conducting a vigorous campaign in Central India. His most formidable antagonists were the Rani of Jhansi and Tantya Tope. Sir High Rose laid siege to Jhansi on March 22. A large force led by Tatya Tope advanced from Charkhari for the relief of Jhansi, but was defeated at the battle of the Betwa on April 1, 1858. After a desperate resistance, the Rani left Jhansi on April 4. She suffered further reverses at Kunch (May 7) and Kalpi (May 22).

At a time when the Rani’s fortunes were at the lowest ebb there took place a dramatic turn of events. The soldiers of Sindia went over to her side and she entrenched herself in the strong fort of Gwalior. Her triumph was worst lived. Sir Hugh Rose recaptured Gwalior on June 20. The Rani gave her life, fighting bravely at the head of her troops.

All this time the struggle had been gaining in intensity in Avadh. The people of Avadh and Rohilkhand, stimulated by the presence of the Begum of Avadh, the Nawab of Bareilly and Nana Sahib and joined the sepoys en masse. In this region alone it was a revolt of the ople rather than the mutiny of an army. Kunwar Singh rallying the sepoys and the people moved out of Bihar and made strenuous efforts to organize the forces of  Opposition in several parts of Central Indian and Avadh; but he was foced to return to Bihar where he died in April, 1858.

 On May 5, 1858, The Battle Of Bareilly was lost by the Rohillas. The strong counter-offensive against Shahjahanpur met with failure. In spite of this set-back the people of Avadh carried on the struggle for a long time. Sir Colin Campbell conducted the campaign in Avadh and it lasted through two cold seasons.


The last phase of the war was marked by the exploits of Tantya Tope. After the loss of Gwalior, Tantya Tope commenced

 “….The marvelous series of operations…” which continued for ten months and which established his reputation as one of the greatest guerilla leaders. Tatya Tope, after doubling backwards and forwards through Central India and Rajputana, was at last betryed captured and executed on April 18, 1859.

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