By  Winston  Churchill


…..This was a period of confident expansion in India, generally undertaken by men on the spot and not always approved by opinion in Britain. Two other major annexations completed the extension of British rule. Possession of Sind, in the lower Indus valley, had been judged necessary to safeguard the command of the north-west coast. It was conquered by Sir Charles Napier, a veteran who had fought at Corunna and in the American war of 1812. In England the magazine Punch commented sourly on this operation. It represented Napier as reporting the matter in a one-word telegram, "Peccavi" ("I have sinned"). Napier, unperturbed, proceeded to rule with absolute and benevolent power. He dealt with widow-burning by the simple expedient of placing a gibbet beside every pyre. "When men burn women alive we hang them" he said. Like the Punjab, Sind remained peaceful for many years. The other annexation was that of Oudh, on the borders of Bengal, where an Indian king had long oppressed his subjects. The Marquis of Dalhousie, appointed Governor-General at the age of thirty-five, had no doubts about the benefits conferred on India by British rule and British skill. During his eight years of office he added principalities to the Company's dominion by applying what was called the "doctrine of lapse." This meant that when an Indian ruler died without an heir of his own blood his territory was forfeited. Adopted heirs were not allowed to inherit, though this had long been Hindu custom. In Oudh Dalhousie was more forthright. He bluntly declared that "the British Government would be guilty in the sight of God and man if it were any longer to aid in sustaining by its countenance an administration fraught with suffering to millions." He deposed the king and seized his province in 1856. Next year came the Mutiny, and much of the blame for provoking it was laid at Dalhousie's door.

The East India Company's army of Bengal had long been of ill-repute. Recruited mainly in the North, it was largely composed of high-caste Hindus. This was bad for discipline. Brahmin privates would question the orders of officers and N.C.O.s of less exalted caste. Power and influence in the regiments frequently depended on a man's position in the religious rather than the military hierarchy. The Company's British officers were often of poor quality, for the abler and more thrusting among them sought secondment to the more spacious fields of civil administration. Many of those who remained at regimental headquarters were out of touch with their men, and showed no desire to improve matters. Troops were needed for a war with Burma, but if they crossed the high seas they lost caste. Dalhousie nevertheless made recruits liable for service anywhere in the world. There were grievances about pay and pensions. Other developments,. unconnected with this military unrest, added their weight. By the 1850's railways, roads, posts, telegraphs, and schools were beginning to push and agitate their way across the countryside, and were thought by many Indians to threaten an ancient society whose inmost structure and spirit sprang from a rigid and unalterable caste system. If everyone used the same trains and the same schools, or even the same roads, it was argued, how could caste survive? Indian monarchs were apprehensive and resentful of the recent annexations. Hatred smouldered at the repression of Suttee. Unfounded stories spread that the Government intended to convert India forcibly to Christianity. The disasters in Afghanistan and the slaughter of the Sikh wars cast doubt on the invincibility of British arms. Many of the sepoys, or Indian soldiers, considered themselves equal or superior to European troops. Thus a legacy of troubles confronted Dalhousie's successor, Lord Canning. He had been in India little more than a year when the introduction of a new type of ammunition provided a spark and focus for the mass of discontent.

In the year of the centenary of Plassey rumours began to flow that the cartridges for the new Enfield rifle were greased with the fat of pigs and cows, animals which Moslem and Hindu respectively were forbidden to eat. The cartridges had to be bitten before they could be inserted in the muzzle. Thus sepoys of both religions would be defiled. There was some truth in the story, for beef-fat had been used in the London arsenal at Woolwich, though it was never used at the Indian factory at Dum-Dum, and as soon as the complaints began no tainted missiles were issued. Nevertheless the tale ran through the regiments in the spring of 1857 and there was much unrest. In April some cavalry troopers at Meerut were court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing to touch the cartridges, and on May 9 they were publicly stripped of their uniforms. An Indian officer told his superiors that the sepoys were planning to break open the jail and release the prisoners. His warning was disbelieved. Next night three regiments mutinied, captured the prison, killed their British officers, and marched on Delhi.

There was nothing at hand to stop them. South of the Punjab fewer than eleven full-strength battalions and ancillary forces, comprising in all about forty thousand British soldiers, were scattered across the vast peninsula, and even these were not on a war footing. The Indian troops outnumbered them by five to one and had most of the artillery. The hot weather had started, distances were great, transport was scarce, the authorities were unprepared. Nevertheless, when the British power was so weak, and India might have been plunged once again into the anarchy and bloodshed from which she had been gradually and painfully rescued most of the populace remained aloof and at peace, and none of the leading Indian rulers joined the revolt. Of the three armies maintained by the Company only one, that of Bengal, was affected. Gurkhas from Nepal helped to quell the rising. The Punjab remained loyal, and its Sikhs and Moslems respected the colours and disarmed wavering regiments. The valley of the Ganges was the centre of the turmoil.

But at first all went with a rush. The magazine at Delhi was guarded by two British officers and six soldiers. They fought to the last, and when resistance was hopeless they blew it up. The mutineers killed every European in sight, seized the aged King of Delhi, now living in retirement as the Company's pensioner, and proclaimed him Moghul Emperor. The appeal failed and few Moslems rose to support it. For three weeks there was a pause, and then the mutiny spread. British officers would not believe in the disloyalty of their troops and many were murdered. At Cawnpore, on the borders of Oudh, the garrison left the citadel to guard the road. They trusted to the loyalty of the Nana Sahib, the dispossessed adopted son of an Indian ruler, but still a powerful figure. They were mistaken, and a terrible fate was soon to befall them. At Lucknow, the capital, Henry Lawrence prepared the Residency for what was to be a long and glorious defence. Meanwhile, rightly perceiving that the key to the revolt lay in Delhi, the British mustered such forces as they could and seized the ridge overlooking the city. They were too few to make an assault, and for weeks in the height of summer three thousand troops, most of whom were British, held the fifty-foot eminence against an enemy twenty or thirty times their number. Early in August Nicholson arrived with reinforcements from the Punjab, having marched nearly thirty miles a day for three weeks. Thus animated, the British attacked on September 14, and after six days street-fighting, in which Nicholson was killed, the city fell. The poor King was sent to Burma. His two sons were taken prisoners, and shot after an attempt had been made to rescue them. This created a fresh grievance in Indian eyes.

At Cawnpore there was a horrible massacre. For twenty-one days nine hundred British and loyal Indians, nearly half of them women and children, were besieged and attacked by three thousand sepoys with the Nana Sahib at their head. At length, on June 26, they were granted safe-conduct. As they were leaving by boat they were fired upon, and all the men were killed. Such women and children as survived were cast into prison. On the night of July 15 a relieving force under Sir Henry Havelock, a veteran of Indian warfare, was barely twenty miles away. The Nana Sahib ordered his sepoys to kill the prisoners. They refused. Five assassins then cut the captives to death with knives and threw the bodies into a well. Two days later Havelock arrived. "Had any Christian bishop visited that scene of butchery when I saw it," wrote an eyewitness long afterwards, "I verily believe that he would have buckled on his sword." Here and elsewhere the British troops took horrible vengeance. Mutineers were blown from the mouths of cannon, sometimes alive, or their bodies sewn up in the skins of cows and swine.

The rebels turned on Lucknow. Here also there was a desperate struggle. Seventeen hundred troops, nearly half of them loyal sepoys, held the Residency, under Henry Lawrence, against sixty thousand rebels, for in Oudh, unlike most of India, the population joined the revolt. Food was short and there was much disease. On September 25 Havelock and Outram fought their way in, but were beset in their turn, Havelock dying of exhaustion a few days later. In November the siege was raised by Sir Colin Campbell, the new Commander-in-Chief appointed by Lord Palmerston. Campbell had seen service against Napoleon and had a distinguished record in the Crimean War. A fresh threat to Cawnpore compelled him to move on. Outram, reinforced, continued to hold out, and Lucknow was not finally liberated till the following March. No one knows what happened to the Nana Sahib. He disappeared for ever into the Himalayan jungle.

Elsewhere the rising was more speedily crushed. The recapture of Delhi had destroyed all semblance and pretence that the mutiny was a national revolt. Fighting, sporadic but often fierce, continued in the Central Provinces until the end of 1858, but on November 1 the Governor-General, "Clemency" Canning, derisively so called for his mercifulness, proclaimed with truth that Queen Victoria was now sovereign of all India. The first Viceroy, as Canning became, was a son of the renowned Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. The rule of the East India Company, which had long ceased to be a trading business in India, was abolished. This was the work of the short Conservative Government of Derby and Disraeli. Thus, after almost exactly a century the advice which Clive had given to Pitt was accepted by the British Government. Henceforward there were to be no more annexations, no subsidiary treaties, no more civil wars. Religious toleration and equality before the law were promised to all. Indians for a generation and more were to look back on the Queen's Proclamation of 1858 as a Magna Carta.

The scale of the Indian Mutiny should not be exaggerated. Three-quarters of the troops remained loyal; barely a third of British territory was affected; there had been risings and revolts among the soldiery before; the brunt of the outbreak was suppressed in the space of a few weeks. It was in no sense a national movement, or, as some later Indian writers have suggested, a patriotic struggle for freedom or a war of independence. The idea and ideal of the inhabitants of the sub-continent forming a single people and state was not to emerge for many years. But terrible atrocities had been committed by both sides. From now on there was an increasing gulf between the rulers and the ruled. The easy-going ways of the eighteenth century were gone for ever, and so were the missionary fervour and reforming zeal of the early Victorians and their predecessors. The English no longer looked on India as "home," or themselves as crusaders called to redeem and uplift the great multitudes. British administration became detached, impartial, efficient. Great progress was made and many material benefits were secured. The frontiers were guarded and the peace was kept. Starvation was subdued. The population vastly increased. The Indian army, revived and reorganised, was to play a glorious part on Britain's side in two world wars. Nevertheless the atrocities and reprisals of the blood-stained months of the Mutiny left an enduring and bitter mark in the memory of both, countries.

While these events unrolled in India the political scene in England remained confused. Issues were not clear-cut. Peel's conversion to Free Trade had destroyed the party lines which he had done much to draw, and for twenty years in England Governments of mixed complexion followed one another. Disraeli and Derby, having broken Peel, found that it took a long time to muster the remnant of the former Tory Protectionists into an effective political party. Rising men like Gladstone, who remained faithful to the Peel tradition, would have nothing to do with them, though on at least one occasion Disraeli tried hard to enlist Gladstone's co-operation. It is an interesting speculation what might have happened had these two bitter opponents and future Prime Ministers at this stage joined hands……


Religion in its numerous varieties cast a soothing and uplifting influence on men's minds. Many millions, more than half the total population, were regular attenders at church or chapel, though church-goers were fewer among the very poor. Religious debate was earnest, sometimes acrimonious, but the contests it bred were verbal. Civil strife for the sake of religion was a thing of the past. The virtues of toleration had been learnt, though toleration did not mean lukewarmness. The churches and sects, and their flocks, took leave to dis-approve of one another, occasionally with vigour. When the Roman Catholic Church re-established its hierarchy of bishops in England there was vehement commotion and protest in London, but nothing amounting to riot.

The Church of England, earlier in the century, had been stirred from slumber by Evangelical zeal and the lofty ideals of the Oxford Movement. The Low Church and High Church parties, as they were called, strove eloquently for men's souls. About half the church-goers of England were members of the Anglican communion. Dissent also flourished, and Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Unitarian preachers gained a wide allegiance. The Church of Rome in England had revived under the impulse of Catholic Emancipation, and was reinforced by the accession of a number of High Anglican clergy, including John Henry Newman, a profound and subtle thinker, later created a Cardinal.

Religious preoccupations were probably more widespread and deeply felt than at any time since the days of Cromwell. But thinking men were also disturbed by a new theory, long foreshadowed in the work of scientists, the theory of evolution. It was given classic expression in The Origin of Species, published by Charles Darwin in 1859. This book provoked doubt and perplexity among those who could no longer take literally the Biblical account of creation. But the theory of evolution, and its emphasis on the survival of the fittest in the history of life upon the globe, was a powerful adjunct to mid-Victorian optimism. It lent fresh force to the belief in the forward march of mankind……