The Indian Mutiny began on 10 May 1857. It is often also referenced as the Indian Rebellion, the Sepoy Mutiny or India’s First War of Independence.
The Mutiny initially occurred in retaliation to a Sepoy, a soldier of Indian descent fighting for the East India Company, who was reprimanded for refusing orders to arrest a fellow Sepoy after attacking a British Officer. Both were later hanged for treachery. This angered other Sepoys who began to break rank and unite against the British. News quickly spread across parts of India and troops mutinied, causing unrest throughout the country.
It is argued that there are several further and underlying causes for the Indian Mutiny. These include; unrest due to the ratio of British troops and Sepoys serving in the East India Company Military, the recruitment system of the colonial armies, the notable cutting back on the enlistment of lower castes, and changes in the terms of Sepoys’ service resulting in lost pensions, financial grievances and less restriction on where Sepoys we required to serve.
However, rumours surrounding the ammunition of new rifles issued to Sepoys is largely regarded to have been the final stimulus for the Mutiny. The cartridges that were used in these rifles had to be bitten open. Muslim Sepoys were angered as it was rumoured that the cartridges were greased with pig fat, which they do not consume due to the belief that pigs are unclean. Hindu Sepoys were angered as it was rumoured they were greased with beef fat, which they also do not consume for religious reasons. The response of the British authorities, to allow the Sepoys to grease the cartridges with whatever they wanted, was in the eyes of the Sepoys confirmation of the rumours.
The British East Indian Army fought against the mutinied Sepoys. Buried at Wardsend, George Lambert, was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions in India. You can find out more about him HERE.
Profile Written by Miriam Emanuel