Thursday, 8 September 2016

St. John's, oldest English church and Sepoy Mutiny (1857)


During the East India Company rule, Meerut, now in U.P was the largest cantonment  in the northern states and had a  large European community, comprising mostly of soldiers. Meerut lies about 70 km from Delhi.
St John's Garrison Church, or St. John Baptist church, 1822. Meerut. www.flickr.com
St John's Garrison Church, or St. John Baptist church  founded in 1819 and completed in 1822 came up in this part of upper  central India to serve the Europeans and facilitate their spiritual engagement. It was built in the military cantonment area and was considered the  first Anglican British church in this
 part.

Here in this Church there is an old registry, containing the names of people baptized here and buried in the adjacent grave yard. It is in good condition and  some visitors from England come here in search of their ancestors' graves. Consecration of the church was done  in 1822 by the Bishop of Calcutta, the Right Rev Thomas Fanshaw Middleton and. prominent among the elite group present at that time, was Governor-General Marquis Hastings. Rev Henery Fisher, a one time Church of England Clergyman, was its first chaplain. This is a parish church and the parish was founded in 1819. 

The rare possessions of this oldest church are  the wooden pews and kneelers, brass eagle lectern, marble baptistery, and stained glass windows and all these are 200 years old. Yet another attraction is a manually operated vintage pipe organ with bellows to supply air to the organ. Because of aging, it is non-functional.
It once accompanied the singing of hymns by a congregation of about 1000 people in the colonial days.
St. John's Church, Meerut..blogspot.com
As for the architecture of this church, it is based on the model of  Palladian or classical style  with high ceiling and large interior prayer hall most suitable for tropical country. The free air circulation will make the congregation comfortable particularly in summer. The balcony is not in use. On the Easter, Christmas and New year days, the church  was crowded. 

When one visits the grave yard of this church, one could see the scattered graves of many  soldiers who died in the early days of Sepoy mutiny.  The graves remind us of the repressive rule of the E.I. C that was the core of this massive rebellion. Indian historians
know it is here in  Meerut  the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny (or Sepoy Rebellion) took place. On 10 May 1857 at that time,  the congregation of British officers and their families well dressed were ready for the holy early evening prayer in spite of hot weather condition. No sooner had the services  begun, than a  group of Indian Sepoys suddenly barged into the prayer hall, brandishing their swords and bayonets. In the ensuing anarchy, several British  soldiers were brutally killed.
St. John's Church, Meerut. www.flickr.com.
The British, without their knowledge, lit the power keg in the ammunition room on their own when the trouble began on May 9, 1857. They unashamedly in public stripped the uniforms  of  85 Sepoys of the 3rd Light Cavalry at Meerut  who refused to use their rifles. Besides humiliation, 10 soldiers were given rigorous  imprisonment.  Later one Mangal Pandey shot a British soldier in protest against their humiliation. He and other soldier were hanged to death. The ensuing unruly rioting was their own creation. This rebellion that began in May, 1857 lasted till July, 1859.
Sepoy mutiny of 1857 sutravoyages.com
The sowars of the 3rd Light Cavalry at Meerut began rioting in rage and later soldiers from  the 11th and 20th Native Infantry joined them ant it snow balled into a hell-bent, violent mob accompanied by torching of the European bungalows in Meerut cantonment and murdering of its occupants. Never such a thing had happened before. Literally the Meerut cantonment was afire.

Caught unawares,  the British soldiers - the 6th Dragoon Guards, 60th Rifles, Carabiniers and Artillery, became petrified, not knowing what to do and the Sepoys had a run on them. It is considered as the beginning a large scale rebellion against the oppressive rule of the English company, running a proxy government under the British Crown, Rampant corruption in the English company, blatant racial discrimination in the military services, poor salary, utter disregard for the religious sentiments of Muslim and Hindu soldiers, besides harsh punishment of the Indian soldiers, etc are some of the reasons. Their tolerance level reached the fag end. The natives with full of hatred  turned  the heat on the obnoxious, race conscious and over-bearing E.I.C officers.

The introduction of the Enfield rifle in the English army was something like opening the Pandora's Box. The new rifles' cartridges had a special grease coating that was believed to contain the fat of cow or pig, a taboo for the Hindus and Muslims respectively. To use it, the new cartridge had to be bitten off which enraged the soldiers. Their disobedience escalated into a towering inferno.  
St John's Garrison Church - Meerut  was a silent spectator of the untold atrocities done by the British against the Indian natives and how it provoked the natives who had borne the grief and pain for too long a time. The night of May 10, 1857 was the worst  nightmare for thousands innocent British families. The docile Indian natives who no longer wanted to lose their pride and dignity on their own soil, under the  compelling circumstances, became violent against the foreign invaders.

This worst rebellion shook the British  Crown out of slumber and complacency and ultimately led to the direct  administration under the British Crown.
Ref:  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John%27s_Church,_Meerut

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Rebellion_of_1857