Walking in the Footsteps of the revolutionaries of 1857 in Lucknow Part 1

A walk through all the important locations in Lucknow which in some or other way played an important role in the revolution of 1857

A journey through the 167 year old legacy and unsung legends

Let us first understand what was happening in Oudh a few years before the actual revolution of 1857. Have used Oudh in place of Awadh as that was the way it was known during that time.

Annexation of Oudh (Awadh)

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Oudh had since long been a supporter of British East India Company. The Nawabs happily gave them a subsidy to provide British troops for internal and external defense of Oudh. By 1801 CE a treaty had been signed where in the British not only received the fixed subsidy but they also had control over the administration of many prominent and profitable districts in Oudh.

1842-1847 CE – Oudh saw the reign of Nawab Amjad Ali Shah who proved to be as incapable as his predecessors in checking the growing power of the British East India Company. The Company had impoverished the state of Oudh, thanks to their unjustified expenses in the name of British run army and regular demands for loans which they never planned to repay.  Oudh was now an independent state only in notional terms. The British (East India Company) powers over Oudh had increased manifold. Even the treasury was under them. The Nawab, had now become only a titular ruler.

By the time Nawab Wazid Ali Shah came on throne (1847 CE), the British had already decided to completely take over the reins. The British Resident of Lucknow General William Sleeman (1849-1856 CE) had been submitting reports to British Governor General of India Lord Dalhousie, highlighting maladministration and lawlessness in Oudh. He succeeded in painting Wazid Ali Shah as a debauched and detached ruler. Wazid Ali Shah was severely reprimanded in his court by Sleeman and under the guise of welfare of state, Wajid Ali Shah was distinctly told that clemency of the British Government would allow him 2 years of grace but if at the end of probation period no visible signs of improvements are seen, the British Government would be forced to interfere and control the administration to restore order and prosperity in the kingdom of Oudh.

Wazid Ali Shah did not speak anything. He just wrote a thank you note to the Governor General and that he would at all times regard his counsel just as a son regards his father’s counsel.Post this the Nawab was never able to focus on administrative or his sovereign  duties.

If one tries to understand his character this could possibly be because of the shock he received from the British and his sensitive effeminate or feeble nature had made him a misfit to rule a state.

His time was now only devoted to his carnal passions and his hobbies-poetry and music. An instance is mentioned where he went about the crowded streets of Lucknow with a big drum around his neck making as much as noise as he could.

The fate of Oudh had been sealed. Oudh at that point of time required someone of a very strong character; one who could take on the might of British, control the administration and people under him. But all it had was an effeminate, poetic, artistic Wajid Ali Shah.

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1849-1850 CE – 2 years of probation were over and there was no change in Wajid Ali Shah (not that the British would have taken a different decision if he had changed). But Sleeman was in no hurry. He knew Oudh and its people were not in favour of forced annexation and that such an action could be harmful. He communicated the same with Lord Dalhousie . Sleeman’s advice was clear “Assume the administration,” “but do not grasp the revenues of the country.”

1853 CE – Sleeman left India for England (he died on the way). Outram was selected to be the Resident of Lucknow.

1855 CE – Outram gave his report – nothing had changed since Sleeman had enforced the probation period on the Nawab. Things had worsened and in view of the same to save the suffering state of Oudh, extreme measures should be taken. This is what Dalhousie was waiting for. Approval for action was sought from the Directors of East India Company in England.

November 1855 – The Court of Directors of East India Company in England signed and sealed the fate of Oudh.

January 2, 1856 – Governor General received the much awaited approvals or orders from Britain at midnight.

January 3, 1856 – A council was summoned and the administrative details that had to be sent to the resident in Lucknow were finalised (they had been already working on these details for many months even before the approvals had been received – that goes on to show how confident the Lord Dalhousie was).

Outram was to persuade the King (Nawab) of Oudh to formally abdicate his sovereign functions and sign a treaty allowing the East India company to rule over his territory. Refusal to do so would in any ways result in proclaimed annexation. The instructions were received by Outram in January end.

January 31, 1856 – Outram communicated the orders of the Company to the ministers of Oudh, clearly stating that they were final and decisive. 4 days were spent by the administration of Oudh (under the guidance of Queen Mother Janab-i-Aliyyah who had been far more energetic and would have been a more appropriate ruler than her son) – in formalities and negotiations. The idea was to buy time for Wajid Ali Shah till the arrival of a new Governor General and then when he comes show him that Oudh in any ways was under the British and they should allow the Nawab to remain the titular ruler. The Nawab would abide by all rules enforced by the British. Sleeman didn’t budge. 

February 4, 1856 – Wajid Ali Shah agreed to receive the British resident Outram. Outram, accompanied by his lieutenants, Hayes and Weston, proceeded to the palace. The scenario at the palace was morose and that of defeat – the guns at the palace-gates were dismounted, the palace guards were unarmed. the guard of honour, who should have presented arms to the Resident, saluted him only with bare hands. Wajid Ali Shah along with his brother and a few of his confidential Ministers, received the English team at the usual spot; and after the protocol rituals, Outram presented a letter from the Governor-General, which contained the sentence that had been passed upon Wajid Ali Shah, and urged him not to resist it. A draft of the proposed treaty was also placed in his hands.

Wajid Ali Shah received the order with a burst of grief, he declared that treaties were only between equals and there was no need for him to sign it, as the British already had acted as superiors and did what they pleased; they had taken his honour and his territory, and he would not ask them for the means of maintaining his life (Surprisingly in a few years we see Wajid Ali Shah happily living off the pension provided to him by the British albeit not in Lucknow but in Matiaburz (near Kolkata)). At that point of time he said all he wanted was permission to proceed to England and ask for mercy from the throne.

Wajid Ali Shah was at his dramatic best in this meeting, where he should have taken out his sword and fought for his right, he took off his turban and placed it in the hands of Outram giving a lengthy melodramatic speech on how the British had made his grandfather a King of Oudh and how they had now taken everything from him.

Outram issued a proclamation declaring the province of Oudh from then on to be forever, an integral part of the British Indian Empire under East India Company. The same was also intimidated to the people of Oudh who like their ruler accepted it without any resistance.

 

May 1856 – Wajid Ali Shah with his huge entourage (including a big chunk of his huge Zenana, cooks etc.) decided to travel to England as he had earlier requested and permission for which he had been granted. They traveled to Kolkata, the summer heat broke the former Nawab and he decided a stopover; in the suburb by the banks of the river Ganga in a villa of English Chief Justice. Not willing to sacrifice his comforts and easy life, he requested permission for his family members to visit England to beg for his kingdom. This was granted and he made arrangements to send his mother, brother and son to do this dirty job of begging for his kingdom. The mother and the brother never came back.

Some murmurs of dissent were now being heard from the Royal family (who so ever did not accompany Wajid Ali Shah ans was still in Oudh). Neighbouring Cawnpore (now Kanpur) was on the verge of exploding but Oudh was still sleeping.

The Sparks of Revolt leading to the Outbreak in 1857 CE

Even before the so called Sepoy Mutiny in the year 1857, India saw small mutinies among the Sepoys. (The British Army had a majority of native Indian Soldiers referred as Sepoys). These mutinies were small but could be effectively called as sparks to the Mutiny of 1857. We will just look at them in brief:-

1764 CE – 1st mutiny in Bengal. Result was that 24 sepoys were tried in Chapra (now in Bihar), found guilty, and ordered to be blown away from the guns.

1766 CE – Mutiny of the Bengal Officers

By 1784 CE – Degradation of native soldiers, they were now inferior to their British counterparts in terms of payments, ranks and facilities.

1784-1796 CE- From only native soldiers of high caste in British army, slowly the inclusion of Muslims, Jats, Rajputs and other caste is seen

1805 – 1806 CE – Activity in Southern Peninsula – Mutiny of the Coast Army. An  interesting change had been imposed on native soldiers, approved European pattern of uniform and personal grooming had been introduced. Sepoy was forbidden to wear the distinguishing marks of Caste on his forehead, stripped of his ear-rings and ordered to shave himself according to a regulation, put a stiff round hat, like a Pariah drummer’s, with a flat top, a leather cockade, and a standing feather or as the native called it a Topi. For the native Indian soldiers new hat was not just an emblem of Christianity but also something which was seen as an action to pollute them and their religions – the hat was made partly of leather prepared from the skin of the pig, or of the cow, and was thus offensive for both Hindus and Muslims.

1806 CE – the caste and religious lines were forgotten among the native Indian soldiers, they were now planning to react. By April and May there was this sense of the upcoming storm, that something ill was going to happen soon; among the Indian soldiers; their brotherhood had strengthened. Small murmurs of resentment were being heard in the Southern Peninsula – especially Madras and Vellore.

1806 CE – Outbreak of Mutiny in Vellore, Massacre of Vellore.

May 7, 1806 – Some mutinous sepoys were court-martialled and flogged in Vellore.

Small but important incidences like this were witnessed till 1857 across different parts of India but Oudh was still sleeping.

January 1857Rising of the Storm. The mutiny at Dum Dum, Behrampur and Barrackpore by the Bengal Army. The murmurs of dissent were being heard in the Bengal Army at Dum Dum. There was a fear among the native sepoys that the British were trying to convert them to Christians. Bibles translated in Urdu and Devnagari had been distributed in 56 Bengal Native Infantry and the most important one was this story- a low caste, Lascar or magazine-man met a high-caste Brahmin Sepoy in the Cantonment, asked him for a drink of water from his Lota (water vessel). The Brahmin refused as he was of low caste, the Lascar taunted him that soon the high and low caste would become same as new cartridges smeared with beef fat and pig lard were being made for the Sepoys at the depots, and would soon be in general use throughout the army. The Brahmin carried this story to his comrades, and it was soon known to every Sepoy in the regiment. A few days after the story of the greased cartridges was first heard at Dum-Dum, the telegraph station at Barrackpore was burnt down. This was followed with other fires; and circulation of letters among various stations to resist the sacrilegious encroachments of the English.

February 1857- The 19th Bengal Native Infantry of the British army (who had now been stationed at Behrampur) was assigned with the task of testing the new Enfield rifle and cartridges. The new rifles had not been issued to 19 BNI, and neither the cartridges. February 26, 1857– The 19th was ordered to test the rifles after assurances from the Commanding Officers. The paper used in wrapping the cartridges was of a different colour, arousing suspicions. The non-commissioned officers of the regiment refused to accept the cartridges. This information was conveyed to the commanding officer, Colonel William Mitchell; he took it upon himself to try to convince the sepoys that the cartridges were no different from those they had been accustomed to and that they need not bite it.

February 27, 1857 – an ordinary parade of the 19th Regiment which had arrived from Barrackpore was ordered. The parade was with blank ammunition. The sepoys understood what it meant. They refused to comply but  it didn’t result in the rising  as they returned to their barracks on persuasion of their commanding officer.

March 1857 –  There was news that English Brigades (who were to arrive from England) have been asked to replace the natives.

March 29, 1857 – The first batch of English soldiers (50 men of the 56th had landed at river bank in Barrackpore from Kolkata) . This led to a great unrest among the native soldiers. Mangal Pandey a native sepoy (34th BNI) could not take in any longer. He decided to act – he attacked Adjutant Baugh in the parade ground. Both engaged in face to face combat (using guns and swords) and interestingly the natives didn’t intervene. Neither they tried to stop Mangal Pandey nor did they try to help him.  Only Shaikh Paltu a native sepoy intervened (for this act he was later promoted to a Hawaldaar by his British Masters). General Hearsey and his two sons reached the parade ground. Mangal Pandey had wounded Baugh and was pacing up and down in front of the Quarter Guard asking the natives to rebel. But no one was acting. Even the British Soldiers were standing in a state of inaction. A dejected Mangal Pandey shot himself . But he was not dead only wounded and was hospitalised.

March 30, 1857 – emissaries from the 34th BNI met dejected 19th at Barasat (their old friends and comrades of Lucknow) prompting them to start a resistance, and a promise that they would support them and would die for their religion. But the 19th had accepted its fate and didn’t agree to react.

March 31, 1857 – The 19th BNI was disbanded, they  were allowed to retain items of uniform and were provided by the government with allowances to return to their homes. They had now ceased to be the soldiers.

April 1st week, 1857– Mangal Pandey recovered and faced trial. He was sentenced to death by hanging along with Jamadar Iswari Prasad (who got this punishment as 3 Sikh members of the quarter guard testified against him, that he had ordered them not to arrest Mangal Pandey). Mangal Pandey was scheduled to be executed on 18th April 1857 but the British executed him on 8th April. (This shows that the  British were by now completely terrorised) Ishwari Prasad was executed on 21st April.

May 6, 1857 – The 34th BNI was disbanded with disgrace as against the 19th. Sepoy Shaikh Paltu was promoted to Havaldaar but he could enjoy the fruits of treachery with his comrades – he was killed in the Barrackpore cantonment shortly before the disbandment of the 34th.

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The issue of Greased cartridges in itself could not have triggered the large outbreak in 1857 though the British would want us to believe it. The oppressive tyrannical policies of British, the rising anger among Indians against the British was the major reason for the outbreak of such large scale.

An interesting fact: The cartridges smeared with obnoxious grease had been in course of manufacture both at Fort William and at the Head-Quarters of Artillery at Meerut. In October 1856, large numbers of balled cartridges had been sent up the country by steamer to be used at Multan.

Lucknow and the Revolt of 1857

The action in Oudh and mainly in Lucknow moved around the entire city. In fact in Lucknow interestingly it started and ended on the same location.

30th April 1857 (location – Musa Bagh Lucknow)

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Musa Bagh (on the out skirts of Lucknow) was occupied by 7th regiment of Oudh Irregular Infantry (British army) which had majority of native Indian soldiers or sepoys. Adjutant of the regiment was Lt. Mecham of Madras army. The news of the activities at Barrackpore and of disbanding of 19th had reached through the grapevine.

Read about Musa Bagh in detail here

On 30th April 1857, during the training,  the soldiers refused to use the cartridges fearing that these were new beef & pig lard laden cartridges (the cover of cartridges was supposedly made out of lard from Beef and Pig which had to be chewed off). Lt. Mecham was able to pacify the soldiers informing them that these were the same cartridges which they had used last fortnight. The soldiers proceeded with their practice.

May 1, 1857 – Lt. Mecham was met with the same resistance next day, the soldiers were adamant and didn’t relent. They were asked to march back to their barracks.


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