Monday, 14 October 2019

The sensational Barrackpore Rebellion of 1824.


Barrackpore mutiny, West Bengal. dnaindia.com
In the annals of India's freedom struggle we are quite familiar with early revolts against the British East India company that began to hold its grip on the Indian subcontinent in the mid 18th century by grabbing the kingdoms one by one and exploiting the Indian natives and natural resources, thus causing resentment and hatred among the patriotic people. By 1824, they had already subdued the mighty Marathas and developed alliance with many rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mysore kingdom, etc.  On the eastern most front, the Burmese kingdom was a thorn to the EIC operations in Bengal and they made inroad into Manipur and Orissa. The massacre of a  small British garrison in Ramu Nagar, Chittagong by the Burmese forces angered the British  and the rumor that they would probably invade Calcutta made the foreign invaders  sit up and do something about it.Now, the British were at loggerheads with the Burmese kingdom  because their Bengal trading operations would be in serious trouble  if  they kept attacking them.
Barrackpore rebellion, West Bengal  timesofindia.indiatimes.com
Have you ever heard of the ''Barrackpore mutiny'' against the British Company in Barrackpore, now in West Bengal?  Yes, this Barrackpore Cantonment was the site of another bloody  rebellion by patriotic Indians who were with the EIC army   thirty-three years before the most  explosive incident (29 March 1857) involving  sepoy Mangal Pandey which finally led to 1857 major ''Indian Rebellion'' against British hegemony which first  began in Meerut Cantonment and had spread to other parts. Prior to thisone held another rebellion called ''Vellore Mutiny'' (July 1806), Vellore Fort, Tamil Nadu. It just lasted a day, but it had a lasting impact  on the English company. In the after math, the soldiers 
were humiliated, blown before the cannons and given harsh
punishment.  
Edward Paget 1775 -  1849 (aged 73), en.wikipedia.org
 The frustrated  native Indian sepoys  revolted against their British officers in Barrackpore in November 1824 for their ill-treatment and discriminatory attitude. The incident  took place when the  EIC waged the  First Anglo-Burmese War between 1824–26. The war war  waged under the then Gov. General of India  William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst. Every rebellion has core reasons and obviously this revolt had its roots in native Indians' frustration and dejection with respect to lack of sensitivity towards Indian cultural sentiments,  neglect, poor treatment  and poor transportation of their personal items to the war front.  The sepoys of several regiments of the Bengal Native Infantry after a long march from Mathura to Barrackpore were quite upset over  utter lack  of transport for personal effects. Besides,  transportation by sea caused  additional apprehension  and disappointment among caste Hindus as it was against their cultural moorings.  The troops from the 47th Native Infantry refused to march towards Chittagong  (now in Bangladesh) on their way to Burma (Myanmar) as their grievances  and demands remained unfulfilled. 

Insensitive as they were, the English company paid least attention to their just demand. This led to  widespread  dissent among  a sections of other regiments such as  the 26th and 62nd Regiments. To rub salt on injuries, the Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Edward Paget,  categorically told them to lay down their arms before  considering their requests for redress.  Upon refusal  by the  sepoys,  the loyal soldiers from the 26th and 62nd Regiments and two British regiments   surrounded their camp.  The sepoys having refused to obey orders within the  specified  time, their camp was attacked with artillery and infantry and  in its wake 180 sepoys were killed including a number of civilian on-lookers. An unscrupulous act on the part of EIC army on its own soldiers whose demands were legitimate. 

Yet another horrible incident that followed it was a number of  protesting soldiers were hanged and others sentenced to long periods of penal servitude. Ultimately, the 47th Regiment was disbanded and its Indian officers  were dismissed, whereas the European officers were  shifted to other regiments. 


The media initially did not report the real story of the grievance of sepoys and their massacre by the English company. Because of suppression of news, only limited information  on the Barrackpore incident  being released to the public. The Parliament came down heavily  on the East India Company government for its irresponsible handling of  sepoys' grievances and the harsh treatment meted out to them.

The following are  the essential facts  of Barrackpore rebellion of November 1824:
01. To take part in  the First Anglo-Burmese War, in October 1824, the troops from 26th, 47th and 62nd Regiments of the Bengal Native Infantry were ordered to march 500 mi (800 km) from Barrackpore  cantonment in Bengal near Calcutta, to Chittagong in preparation for entering Burmese territory.   Already the soldiers had marched from Mathura to Barrackpore, a long distance. Imagine the hardship they went through. 

02. Soldiers refused to  take yet another long tedious journey from Chittagong into Burma.

03. This time they hesitated to fight against the Burmese, an unknown enemy that too their neighbors. Indians had nothing against them. 

03. The high caste Hindus in  the regiments had reservations about crossing the sea due to the 'kala pani'' taboo. Crossing the ocean was  a taboo, in particular, among Brahmins in the past. Such people would be excommunicated.

04. There was lack of transportation facilities for their personal belongings and this forced the soldiers to carry their personal items - cooking utensils, bedding, etc along with their 
knapsacks, muskets and ammunition. They were burdened by fatigue and frustration of carrying heavy stuff beyond their capacity.  

05. There were no bullock carts to transport their stuff.  Their requests to provide them with bullock carts fell on deaf ears. The EIC also refused to pay reasonable baggage allowance for the soldiers considering their long march with heavy additional stuff. 

06. The soldiers of the 47th Native Infantry appeared  for the 1st November parade without their knapsacks and refused to bring them even when ordered to do so. Their contention was no march unless the army provided them with bullock carts  or double baggage allowance, 
07. Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Edward Paget asked the soldiers to lay down their arms first then only he would consider their request. Their blunt refusal angered Paget, an old school martinet of Royal Service ; it was tantamount to an act of armed mutiny.  He quickly  summoned two regiments of European troops, the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot and the 1st (Royal) Regiment, as well as troops of the Governor General's bodyguard from Calcutta. 

08. On the morning of 2 November 1824, the reinforcements and the loyal members of the 26th and 62nd Regiments moved into position and  protesting soldiers were given 10 minute time to obey  orders.  The soldiers refused to budge and now  Gen. Paget ordered two cannons to fire on the rebels, followed by an attack from the rear by the secretly placed horse artillery. Stunned by this unexpected assault, the sepoys ran for safety while other British regiments  began attacking them  from all directions. Some of the sepoys  who jumped into the Hooghly River  died due to drowning; others, who took shelter in the near-by local households.  were chased and killed  with  bayonets including many bystanders - women and children.

09. Of about 1,400 mutineers, 180 were killed during the attack, although the death toll is a subject of discussion.

10. Besides, on 2nd November  eleven sepoys were tagged  as the ring leaders and received a quick  trial, whereby  they were sentenced to death by hanging.

 11. Around 52 sepoys received harsh punishment -  sentenced to fourteen years' hard labor on roads in chains; numerous others were sentenced with lesser terms.

 12. On 9 November, the leader of the soldiers Bindee was hung in chains on the next day. His body was left to rot for months in open public display in Calcutta.

13. In the British parliament, this atrocity by the ESI came up for discussion (22 March 1827) and Joseph Hume, an opposition MP, reported that the number of casualty was from 400–600  as per the "facts that had reached him from India". However ,Charles Williams-Wynn, a Tory MP,  responded  on behalf of the government, that the number was no more than 180. 

14. The Oriental Herald in London first published a story on the subject almost six months after the incident, calling it the "Barrackpore Massacre", based on a report by a British correspondent in Calcutta.  The Oriental Herald severely criticized British officers for the indiscriminate slaughter with out remorse.

15. As expected, no disciplinary measures were taken against Gen. Paget or any other officer of the army, contrary to expectations. M Massacre was committed under the direction of Gen. Paget. Gov. Gen.  Amherst came close to being recalled for mishandling the situation but ultimately retained his position. For further reading: 01. Barrackpore Massacre – Burmese War – Present State of the Native Army in Bengal, The Oriental Herald, Volume 5, 1825. 02.
Refer  to the work of  the 24th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, Major General V.K. Singh (2010–2012),  who wrote extensively about the 1824 Barrackpore mutiny,
 Tit-bits:
 Vellore Mutiny (rebellion) 1806:
10 July 1806.Vellore Mutiny, Tamil Nadu thebetterindia.com
The ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857,  is considered as the first  war of independence as it shook the very basic foundation of the British Empire.  After it was subdued, the British Crown took  direct control of the the Indian administration - later called the British Raj. 

However, what many people do not know is that prior to the great revolt of 1857 and the Barrackpore revolt of 1824  the Vellore revolt of 1804 witnessed a violent a rebellion albeit a brief one against the British empire. It took place in Vellore town (in Tamil Nadu) on the midnight of 10 July 1806.  It  lasted just one day but the death toll of Indians was over 400 lives. The Indian killed 115 men from the British infantry who were sleeping in their barracks and the mutiny was subdued by cavalry and artillery from Arcot. After formal trial, six mutineers were blown away from guns, five shot by firing squad, eight hanged and five transported to serve imprisonment. The government was critical of John Craddock,
the Commander-in-Chief of Madras Army and refused to pay his passage back to England.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vellore_mutiny
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrackpore_mutiny_of_1824