Historical Sikh Events: The Sepoy Mutiny 1857
|THE SEPOY MUTINY 1857|
|RELIEF AND DEFENCE OF LUCKNOW|
|CAPTURE OF LUCKNOW|
Anglo Sikh Wars brought an end to the Khalsa rule in Punjab. These two series of wars, First Anglo Sikh War and Second Anglo Sikh War left Sikhs leaderless. The Dogra generals who lead Sikh armies were in alliance with British and reaped a profit of their own by getting small kingdoms (like Kashmir). In the years that followed the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1849, sikh armies were disbanded by the British imperialists. Then happened the mutiny of 1857, which was nothing more then an attempt by Marathas to bring back the old order of Mughals. Mutiny in British armed forces was encouraged and several hundreds of British women, children were murdered by these mutineers, all over North India. Eighty Years Bahadur Shah Zafar, from the lineage of Mughals was asked to take up the leadership of mutineers, which he reluctantly agreed. He had actually no other choice. During the Mutiny of 1857, the Muslims sought restoration of the rule of Muslim princes and rulers, and the Hindus hoped to put the Maratha rulers back into power. The princes of the two communities had a unity of purpose in putting up a common front against a common enemy, the British. Because of the earlier British repression of the Sikhs, they were too disorganised to think of putting up a united leadership to reclaim their lost kingdom. Sikh community was leaderless.
Moreover, the situation in the Punjab was quite different from the one that prevailed in the rest of India. An important and the main factor was that the Sikhs had nursed a serious grudge against the Purbias who, despite the Sikhs having never given them any cause for offence, had by their betrayal and other overt and covert acts, helped the British during the Anglo-Sikh wars and later in the annexation of Punjab. The British used the Sikh grievance and the consequent "natural hatred" towards lhe Purbias. Kavi Khazan Singh in his work, ‘Jangnama Dilli’, written in 1858, mentions that the Sikh participation against the Purbia soldiers was in reaction to their boast that they had vanquished the Sikhs in 1845-46 and in 1848-49. Another contemporary observer noted: "The animosity between the Sikhs and the Purhias is notorious. The former gave out that they would not allow the latter to pass through their country. It was, therefore, determined to take advantage of this ill feeling and to stimulate it by the offer of rewards for every Hindostanee sepoy who should be captured. The bitter memories of Purhia co-operation with the British were so fresh in Sikh minds that any coalition between the two became impossible. The people who now claimed to be fighters for freedom were the same who, eight years earlier, had actively helped the British to usurp Sikh sovereignty. On top of that they were trying to bring back the same Mughal empire which over the years had wreak havocs on Sikh Gurus and famous Gursikhs.
The pleas of Purbias were so hollow and incongruous with their earlier conduct, that they fell on deaf ears of the agprieved Punjabi Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims whose independence they had helped the British to roh. Besides, it is a well-accepted view that the risings in 1857 were just revolts by the princes to regain their feudal or territorial rights. It was far from being any ideological struggle for any common Indian interest. In this context, the Sikhs in the background of their rule in Punjab and egalitarian tradition could harldy be expected to side with Muslim and Hindu princes to regain their kingdoms, nor could religious taboos which affected Hindu and Muslim sentiments, against many of which the Sikh Gurus had led a crusade, in any measure inflame Sikh sentiments. It was on account of all this that the Punjab was not afiected hy the rebellion which convulsed the rest of northern India. Punjabi Mussalmans turned a deaf ear to their Hindustani co-religionists exhortation of Jihad against the pig-eating despoilers of Islam. Punjabi Hindus and, with greater reason, the Sikhs refused to listen to the belated appeal to save Hindu Dharma from beefeating foreigners who used cow fat to grease their cartridges. However, there were stray cases of Sikhs joining the mutineers. It was reported that a large number of Sikhs gathered at Ropar and declared the Khalsa Raj for which the leader of the band was immediately put to death. A Sikh Chief, Raja Nahar Singh, was executed for supporting the cause of the rebels. After annexation Bhai Maharaj Singh had moved from village to village in Majha region and incited the people to rebel.
The Cis-Satluj chiefs of Patiala, Malerkotla, Kalsia, Nabha, Faridkot and Jind, along with their mercenary forces, rendered full help to the British in suppressing the rebellion. These chiefs owed their existence to the British and were always outside the main Punjab, being hostile to Ranjit Singh. They still remembered with gratitude the support extended to them hy the British against Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But for the British protection, Ranjit Singh would have overpowered them long ago.
This mutiny led British to recruit for their armed forces heavily among the communities which had been neutral to this rebellion. Especially, Gurkhas, Rajputs of Rajasthan, Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs. Sikhs started enlisting with British forces and were thus back to the profession of their liking, the military services.
Ninety Years later when India became independent Indian leaders decided to call the Mutiny of 1857 as "The first war of Independence", which in reality was the last war of Mughals.
Although everything was quiet at Allahabad at this time, the situation was very confused and the news of the mutiny in the north caused considerable anxiety and doubt. However, no precautionary measures were considered necessary until the 5th of June, when all civilians and women and children were ordered into the fort. This was just in time, for, at 10 p.m. on the 6th of June, the 6th Native Infantry, which was stationed in the cantonments two miles from the fort, unexpectedly mutinied. The men attacked their officers in the mess and then plundered the treasury. Incendiary, rapine and murder followed. The mutineers were joined by all the town rabble, and their savagery was terrible and continued for days.
Although the Commissioner and other senior officers were unprepared, Lieutenant Brasyer was ready and, as soon as the firing started in the cantonment, he quietly assembled his men and gave them instructions and encouragement. There were three guards of the 6th Native Infantry, numbering about two hundred men, in the fort in charge of the different gates. Lieutenant Brasyer, entirely on his own initiative, decided to disarm these men. He immediately went to the main gate with a party of Sikhs and instructed the officer in command of the guard to order his men to give up their arms. The guard, who, it was afterwards learnt, had been given ammunition to hold the gate for the rebels, defiantly refused. Lieutenant Brasyer saw that determined action was necessary, so he caused his Sikhs to support him and advanced towards the guard. It was thought that the Sikhs might join the mutineers, but Brasyer had an irresistible influence over his men and the Sikhs did not waver.
Lieutenant Brasyer immediately ordered the guard to pile arms and stand clear. The guard hesitated and one man lunged forward at Brasyer with his bayonet, but the officer’s orderly knocked aside the musket and saved his life. The Sikhs now adopted a determined attitude and the mutinous guard, seeing that the Sikhs were firm; gave way. Brasyer then personally disarmed all the men of the 6th Native Infantry in the fort and his Sikhs supported him throughout. The guards were made prisoners and turned out of the fort the next day.
As soon as the guards had been disarmed, Lieutenant Brasyer organized the defence of the fort, which he held against the rebels with his four hundred Sikhs, a party of invalid British artillerymen and a small number of volunteer civilians until reinforcements arrived.
The following is an extract from the London Times of that time
Lieutenant Brasyer commanded the Seikhs at Allahabad. It was to him that the Europeans were indebted for preventing the rebels from taking the fort.
This was the first important British success in the Mutiny and it was a stroke which has never been properly appreciated. Allahabad was the key to the north-west and, once secured, it formed an advanced base of operations. But for Brasyer’s initiative and intrepidity, the war against the mutineers would have taken a very different course.
The importance of Lieutenant Brasyer’s success is borne out by this extract from a report by Lord Canning, the Governor-General, to the Government
I shall not be surprised if that strong fortress Allahabad, with all its valuable stores and war munitions, has fallen into the hands of the insurgents. That would indeed be a climax to our misfortunes, more serious than the seizure of Delhi.
After the 6th of June the fort was subjected to a desultory siege, for the place was surrounded by a large force of rebels, who remained in possession of the bazaar and city. The rebels were well armed and had two guns. Brasyer wrote as follows about his Sikhs at this time
All this time my faithful Seikhs, on whom so much depended, were craving to be led against the enemy outside, or anywhere, rather than be kept idle within the Fortress, so I found it necessary to temporise with them a little. `Now, as we are all on special duty, doing hard work, and in hot weather,’ said I, `let us discard the cap and heavy clothing. Adopt your national dress, and show how Seikhs can fight, and save this Fort and all within it.
The Ferozepore Sikhs therefore from this time on discarded their caps and heavy coats and wore red turbans and Sikh blouses throughout the Mutiny. This pleased the men immensely, especially as Brasyer himself adopted the dress.
A few days later Colonel James Neill arrived with a British battalion, the 1st Madras Fusiliers, and took over command at Allahabad. By this time the whole countryside had broken out into revolt, so from the 12th of June Colonel Neill carried out a series of vigorous sorties against the rebels. The Ferozepore Regiment, now known as Brasyer’s Sikhs; played a prominent part in these operations and won further distinctions. These sorties met with considerable success and the district was soon in a state of submission. On the 17th of June the rebels were defeated and driven out of the city and the British administration was reestablished.
Before the end of the month Lieutenant Montague arrived from Mirzapore with the remainder of the Regiment and joined Brasyer, who had been promoted to captain for his gallantry at the beginning of the month.
The situation at Cawnpore was now serious and it was essential to send a force to relieve the British garrison as soon as possible. Transport was immediately collected and an advance column, consisting of Madras Fusiliers and Ferozepore Sikhs, set out for Cawnpore; on the 30th of June.
On the same day General Havelock arrived in Allahabad with the 64th and 84th Foot and the 78th Highlanders, and he set off for Cawnpore a few days later, taking with him his British troops and a detachment of the Ferozepore Sikhs. By this time Cawnpore had been captured by the rebels, so General Havelock decided to drive them out and then march to the relief of Lucknow, where the British were besieged in the Residency.
A portion of the Ferozepore Sikhs were left behind in Allahabad, under Lieutenant Montague, to hold the fort and patrol the surrounding district. Here the Sikhs did excellent work and fought several successful engagements with parties of mutineers in the area. On one occasion a guard of two non-commissioned officers and eight sepoys, surrounded by about a thousand rebels at Sahunga, gallantly rescued a wounded British officer and fought their way back through the rebels to the main guard.
General Havelock joined forces with the advanced column on the 12th of July and moved on towards Cawnpore in very trying conditions in the hot weather. On the following day, just as the combined force was preparing to camp
near the village of Fathepur, a large party of mutineers advanced from the village to attack the British force. Although his men were exhausted after a long march under a scorching sun, Havelock decided to attack. He immediately deployed his troops and utterly routed the enemy in a short, sharp fight. After a much-needed rest on the next day, the force continued the march early on the 15th of July. However, it was found that the enemy had re-formed and was holding the village of Aong in strength. General Havelock immediately attacked the enemy positions and threw back the mutineers at the point of the bayonet. It was now learnt that the enemy was preparing to blow the important bridge over the Pandu river, six miles farther on, so Havelock had to push on without resting in order to save the bridge and secure a passage over the river. Brasyer’s Sikhs moved forward in skirmishing order and occupied the cliffs overlooking the bridge. This enabled the guns to come forward and cover the Madras Fusiliers, who stormed the bridge and put the enemy to flight.
The same evening General Havelock learnt that a number of women and children had been made prisoner at Cawnpore and had to be rescued at all costs. He therefore decided to continue the advance without delay, even though his men had had no rest and the column was still twenty-two miles from Cawnpore On the 16th of July the force advanced to within a few miles of the town before meeting any resistance. Here some ten thousand rebels opposed the British advance on the town. General Havelock personally led his now-small force of nine hundred men round the enemy’s left flank and took the enemy by surprise from the rear. The 78th Highlanders were in the lead and rolled up the enemy’s left flank with a brilliant charge. The 64th and 84th Foot and Brasyer’s Sikhs then passed through and carried the enemy’s position. They captured the guns on the right and the enemy retreated. Leaving the guns behind, protected by Brasyer’s Sikhs, the British infantry regiments followed up their success and inflicted further losses on the enemy, who eventually lost heart and fled in disorder.
General Havelock and his men camped for the night in the open and entered Cawnpore early on the 17th of July, but they were too late to stop the brutal murder of the women and children by the mutineers.
Forest, in his History of the Indian Mutiny, wrote as follows about
Havelock’s advance from Allahabad
After a few days’ rest Havelock, leaving General Neill with a small force to hold Cawnpore, crossed the River Ganges by boat and set out to march to the relief of Lucknow, forty-five miles away. His force, which was only fifteen hundred strong and included Brasyer’s Sikhs, moved out on the 29th of July and almost immediately encountered a large force of the enemy opposing their advance. Havelock drove the enemy out of the villages of Unao and Basiratganj and utterly defeated them in two brilliant battles. However, Havelock’s force was seriously depleted by sickness and battle casualties and he had to withdraw to Mangalwar; a few miles north of the river, and await reinforcements. It was quite obvious that the remnants of his force had little chance of forcing the way to Lucknow and carrying out the relief of the besieged garrison in the Residency. Forrest wrote in his History
A few days later Havelock received a small number of reinforcements and a few guns, so he moved forward again on the 5th of August. He encountered the enemy in Basiratganj and utterly routed the rebels for a second time, but again was forced to withdraw to Mangalwar. He was still not strong enough to fight his way to Lucknow, which was reported to be held by thirty thousand mutineers.
On the 11th of August Cawnpore was threatened by four thousand mutineers, who had arrived in Bithur from Saugor, and General Neill called for aid, while, at the same time, the enemy was also reported to be collecting again in Basiratganj. Havelock was determined to strike another blow before recrossing the river to Cawnpore, and he set out with his force the same evening. He once again defeated the enemy in a fierce battle a few miles north of Basiratganj during the next morning, and then withdrew for a third time and crossed the river to Cawnpore.
On the 16th of August Havelock led his much-depleted force against the mutineers in Bithur. After a long march of eight hours the weary force gained contact with the enemy, who were holding one of the strongest positions that Havelock had ever seen, around the village. Havelock decided not to wait, and his men assaulted the position with great gallantry. After some hard hand-tohand fighting the position was carried and the enemy utterly routed. Brasyer’s Sikhs were on the left flank and threw back a large force of the enemy, entrenched in the bank of a nullah, at the point of the bayonet and captured his guns.
After the battle Havelock returned to Cawnpore and issued his famous order of the day in which he said
This quotation is inscribed on his statue in Trafalgar Square, and on the reverseThe 14th Sikhs are the only unit of the Indian Army mentioned on a monument in England.
Owing to casualties and the serious sickness from cholera and other diseases amongst his British troops, Havelock had to remain in Cawnpore for nearly a month awaiting reinforcements. There was very little fighting and the Ferozepore Regiment was detailed to escort a convoy of sick and wounded to Allahabad. The Sikhs escorted the wounded safely back, in spite of encountering a number of rebels during the journey, and then returned to Cawnpore.
In the middle of September Sir James Outram arrived in Cawnpore with a large force of reinforcements and bridging operations over the Ganges were begun. The mutineers attacked the bridge from the northern bank and Brasyer’s Sikhs were sent over to cover the construction. The Sikhs drove the enemy back and the bridge was completed without further interference.
On the 21st of September two brigades, about three thousand strong all told, set out for Lucknow under General Havelock, accompanied by Sir James Outram.
The enemy opposed the advance at Mangalwar and at Alambagh, in the southern outskirts of Lucknow, and were utterly defeated by the British in two gallant battles. Havelock and Outram halted at Alambagh on the 24th of September while they decided the best means of extricating the British forces in the Residency.
On the 25th of September the advance from Alambagh began. General Neill’s Brigade was in the lead and the 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore Regiment were detailed as rearguard and ordered to hold the bridge at Charbagh until everything had passed. The Madras Fusiliers, with the 84th Foot, forced the bridge and Havelock then led his force round east of the city. This move evidently surprised the rebels, for he met no serious opposition until he arrived a short distance from the Residency. Meanwhile, the Highlanders and Sikhs were heavily engaged at Charbagh, where they were attacked by a large force of rebels. After three hours’ fighting they defeated the enemy and were able to push on. However, they had lost touch with the main British column and took the wrong road. This mistake proved most fortunate, for they suddenly encountered the rear of some guns which were holding up Havelock’s advance and rushed them without ceremony. The 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore Regiment were now in front. The Residency was only some five hundred yards away, but since it was now dusk and the column was strung out over a considerable distance General Outram suggested halting. General Havelock, however, was determined to reach the Residency without delay and ordered the 78th High-landers and Brasyer’s Sikhs to advance. This column, led by Sir James Outram and General Havelock, dashed forward through the narrow streets of flat-roofed, loopholed houses held by the mutineers. The Highlanders and Sikhs fought their way forward with desperate gallantry under continuous fire from the enemy and eventually reached the Bailey Guard Gate of the Residency to the deafening cheers of the gallant garrison. In describing the assault Brasyer wrote
During the day’s desperate fighting many acts of gallantry were performed and the Regiment suffered a very large proportion of casualties. One noteworthy feat of gallantry was that of Sepoy Nihal Singh, of the Ferozepore Sikhs, who carried General Neill, when he was mortally wounded in the final charge, to the rear under heavy fire.
The rearguard, with a number of sick and wounded, had not been able to reach the Residency and had remained in the Moti Mahal. So, on the next day, a detachment of the 5th Fusiliers and Brasyer’s Sikhs was sent to reinforce them and help them to withdraw to the Residency. Although the Sikhs and Fusiliers fought their way through and drove the enemy back from the buildings and gardens adjacent to the Mod Mahal, the enemy fire from the Kaiserbagh was found to be too heavy to admit of the rearguard convoy being moved back. Further reinforcements from the 78th Highlanders were then sent forward and the rearguard was safely withdrawn to the Residency after dark.
After arriving in the Residency area Sir James Outram took over, from General Havelock, the command of the British forces. Although the rebels had been outwitted, they had not been decisively defeated and still occupied the city in great strength. It was found to be quite impracticable to carry out the original intention of withdrawing the besieged people in the Residency and all the relieving force could do was to aid its defences. Although this was not really a relief of the Residency, it was a very gallant rescue from a situation of the gravest peril. There were now 2,000 additional troops, so there was no longer an imminent danger of the garrison being overwhelmed. However, the Residency was besieged as closely as ever, and Sir James Outram had to stand on the defensive and await relief in his turn.
With the increased number of troops in the Residency positions had to be enlarged and so for the next few days several sorties were made to improve the position. The Regiment of Ferozepore was in General Havelock’s sector and took part in the sorties along the eastern face of the Residency to clear the enemy from the gardens and houses up to the Chata Manzil. These sorties were entirely successful and improved the defences of the Residency. Lieutenant Cross, of the Ferozepore Sikhs, was wounded in one of these sorties, but otherwise the Regiment suffered very few casualties.
On account of the Sikhs’ good service, General Havelock promoted each man to a grade higher in rank, and all subadars were granted the 1st Class Indian Order of Merit.
For the next two months Brasyer’s Sikhs were put in charge of the Bailey guard, one of the most important positions in the Residency, and they also held the defences on the right of General Havelock’s sector bordering the Pyne Bagh. Outram’s force was given no rest by the enemy and it had always to be on the alert. Duties were constant and arduous, while rations were scanty throughout the siege. On one occasion, when the enemy blew a breach in the defences, a detachment of the Ferozepore Sikhs checked a large force of the enemy who stormed the breach, and gave the garrison time to form and repulse the enemy. Jemadar Gowahir Shah was in command of the guard and was awarded the Indian Order of Merit for his gallant conduct.
At last, on the 17th of November, a relieving force under General Sir Colin Campbell, Commander-in-Chief in India, arrived at Lucknow. The situation at Cawnpore, however, had again become: critical and General Campbell had to return there as quickly as possible. He therefore decided to evacuate the Residency and return to deal with the rebels at Lucknow at a later date. On the night of the 22nd November all the British forces were withdrawn successfully from the Residency together with all the women, children and wounded. The enemy were taken completely by surprise by this operation, which had been carefully planned and boldly executed.
General Outram was left with a force of some four thousand men to hold Alambagh and contain the enemy at Lucknow. The Ferozepore Regiment was included in General Outram’s force and held defensive works at Alambagh for three months. Duties were very arduous on account of the large perimeter to be held. while the enemy kept in constant touch and there were almost daily skirmishes and minor encounters. The enemy delivered a number of attacks, but these were all beaten off with losses to the rebels.
On the 22nd of December General Outram took the offensive and threw back a large enemy force which had attempted to sever his communications to Cawnpore. Reporting on this action, Outram wrote
On another occasion a most determined attack was made by the enemy on the defences held by the Ferozepore Regiment. Before dashing off to counter-attack the enemy Captain Brasyer sent the following message, scribbled on an envelope, to General Outram :
CAPTURE OF LUCKNOW
At the beginning of March, 1858, Sir Colin Campbell, with a large, well equipped force, joined General Outram at Alambagh and started methodical operations against the rebels at Lucknow,, The enemy were holding three lines of defences north of the city covering the Kaiserbagh, their citadel. These had been strengthened since the relief of the Residency, and houses were now fortified and roads barricaded.
Sir Colin’s plan was to send General Outram with his division north of the River Gumti to turn the rebels’ position, while his main force attacked the Kaiserbagh from Dilkusha Park.
For a few days the Ferozepore Regiment, now only three hundred and twenty strong, protected the Commander-in-Chief’s camp, but it was soon in action against the enemy and took part in the operations to force back the rebels from their first line of defences along the canal. By the 13th of March the British had reached the Little Emambarra, which was held in strength and had to be captured. On the 14th of March one hundred men of the Ferozepore Regiment, under Captain da Costa, with two companies of the 10th Foot, assaulted breaches in the walls of the Little Emambarra, while Captain Brasyer and a hundred more Sikhs assaulted some houses to a flank. Since he had no other British combatant officer available, Captain Brasyer placed the Colours with an escort in charge of the medical officer, Surgeon J. Browne, and ordered him to keep close to him. These orders were faithfully carried out.
Brasyer’s party captured and set fire to the houses on the flank and then, climbing ‘up on to some flat roofs, set out towards the Little Emambarra itself. It arrived just as the assault was launched. This diversion enabled the storming troops to advance with unexpected ease. They soon captured the Emambarra, and the Colours of the Ferozepore Regiment were planted over the gateway. The day’s objective had been captured, but the Sikhs were eager to follow up their success and Captain Brasyer described the next phase of the battle as follows
The Sikhs and the 90th Light Infantry, led by Captains Brasyer and Havelock(Son of General Havelock.), rushed forward and fought their way into an enclosure adjoining the Kaiserbagh under terrible fire. Havelock ran back for reinforcements, and a party of the 10th Foot advanced and captured a small bazaar in rear of the Tara Kothi and mess-house, which were held by some six thousand rebels. This bold move completely surprised the enemy, who made as though they would rush Brasyer’s party and force their way out into the city. However, Havelock, seeing the danger, dashed forward with a party of Sikhs and captured two bastions in the last line of defences, turned the guns on to the rebels and drove them towards the Chatar Manzil. Reinforcements followed up quickly and before long the whole of Kaiserbagh was in British hands. Meanwhile, Brasyer had dashed into the centre of the palace, climbed on the top and pushed the Queen’s Colour through a gunshot hole in the highest dome, as a signal that the citadel had been captured. The Ferozepore Regiment suffered heavy casualties in this battle and Captain da Costa was among those killed.
General Franks, in his report of that day, wrote
On the 16th of March Brasyer’s Sikhs formed part of General Outram’s force which captured the Residency and the iron bridge. Major Brasyer was seriously wounded in these operations, but refused to relinquish command of his Sikhs and had to be carried on a litter at the head of the Battalion for several days.
The rebels had been completely defeated in these battles and Lucknow was once again safely in British hands.
After the capture of Lucknow the Ferozepore Regiment joined the Oudh Field Force and took part in a number of minor encounters in rounding up parties of rebels and pacifying the countryside. During this period Lieutenant Montague, with the Allahabad detachment, arrived back in the Battalion.
Operations came to an end in June, 1859, and the Regiment marched to Ferozepore, its home station. Brasyer wrote
For its service in the Indian Mutiny the Regiment was allowed to bear on its Colours the inscription Lucknow, Defence and Capture, while as a special mark of distinction for its outstanding conduct the Governor-General issued orders that the men of the Regiment of Ferozepore were permitted to wear red safas (turbans), like those in which they had fought, instead of native infantry caps-a privilege of which the Regiment still avails itself on ceremonial parades.
The staff of one of the Colours was broken by a bullet at the relief of Lucknow and was mended with a plain brass ring. This staff still carries the Regimental Colour today, although the actual Colour has been renewed on two occasions since that time.
Only five British officers served with the Ferozepore Regiment during the Mutiny: of these one was killed and three wounded. Brasyer commanded the Regiment throughout the Mutiny, starting as a lieutenant and ending up as a lieutenant-colonel.
:The Sikh Regiment – Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O