The March to Delhi that Shook the British Empire, 159 Years Ago

One hundred and Fifty Nine Years ago, the 62 kilometre aerial distance from Meerut to Delhi (that can be covered in 2 hours and 61 minutes by road) recorded a historic journey. Of revolt and resistance. The 1857 Revolt.
From May 10 to May 11, the Uprising Spread from Meerut to Delhi. The map says it all. And this video produced to bring home the various elements of the May 1857 uprising says it all.
The Uprising at Meerut
On the late evening of May 9, 1857 at Meerut the bell of the church never rang out. But the Sounds of Bullets Firing rang  out. From right next to the Church, from the Parade Maidan, first one then two then un-ending  slogans rose from one corner of the Maidan and were echoed in another. The fervour reached a crescendo and the air was suffused with the noise.
There was complete chaos, people running around, screams and shouts could be heard. Indian (Hindustani) Sipahis could be seen spread all over the areas in the city. Every corner was teeming with them. Whoever came in their way was killed. The uprising was so sudden that the British were taken back.

Unknown place in India in year 1858, where rebellions were hanged in public.

The Sipahis had revolted
The first shot of the revolt hit Colonel John Finish. He died on the spot. Some Europeans horse riders moved forward; told the Sipahis “Hosh mein aao” (come to your senses) What is this insolence?
The Sipashis ignored the warnings. At that point smoke arose from one corner. Thick black swirls of smoke rose to the sky. The homes of the British were being burned down. People ran out to save their lives.
They ran towards the stables,  hid in the farms; some climbed up and clung to the trees for protection in the hope that the night would protect them and they would be saved. But the light thrown out by the burning flames fooled many. The Sipahis would raise their voices in slogans and they would cringe in fear.  The ‘valour of the british stood exposed that day.
Night fell. But neither did the shouts nor the killings stop. “Maro Maro” slogans and with that “Dilli Chalo…’

The Great Uprising of 1857
Outbreak of the Uprising
The following excerpt is from the communication sent by Major-General W.H. Hewitt, Commanding the Meerut Division, to Colonel C. Chester, Adjutant-General of the Army, Simla, on May 11, 1857.
I regret to have to report that the native troops at Meerut broke out yesterday evening in open mutiny. About 6-30 P.M. the 20th Regiment, Native Infantry, turned out with arms. They were reasoned with by their officers, when they reluctantly returned to their Lines, but immediately after they rushed out again and began to fire. The 11th Regiment, Native Infantry, had turned out with their officers, who had perfect control over them, inasmuch as they persuaded them not to touch their arms till Colonel Finnis had reasoned with the mutineers, in doing which he was, I regret to say, shot dead. After which act, the 20th Regiment, Native Infantry, fired into the 11th Regiment, Native Infantry, who then desired their officers to leave them, and apparently joined the mutineers. The 3rd Regiment, Light Cavalry, at the commencement mounted a party and galloped down to the jail to rescue the 85 men of the corps who were sentenced by the native General Court-martial, in which they succeeded, and at the same time liberated all the other prisoners, about 1200 in number. The mutineers then fired nearly all the bungalows in rear of the centre lines south of the nullah…
In this they were assisted by the population of the bazaar, the city, and the neighbouring villages…
3rd – Nearly the whole of the cantonment and Zillah Police have deserted.
4th – The electric [telegraph] wire having been destroyed, it was impossible to communicate the state of things except by express, which was done, to Delhi and Umballa [Ambala].
Events at Delhi on May 11, 1857
During the trial of Emperor Bahadur Shah II by the British in 1858, Gulab, a messenger, described the events of 11 May 1857.
On the morning of the 16th of Ramzan, alias the 11th of May, at about 7 am, a Hindu sepoy of the 38th Regiment of Native Infantry came up to the door of the Hall of Special Audience in the palace, and said to some of the door-keepers… that the native army at Meerut had mutinied against the State, and were now on the point of entering Delhi; that he and the rest of them would no longer serve the Company, but would fight for their faith… I had hardly received this information, when the King of Delhi sent for me. I attended on him immediately, and His Majesty said, “Look! the Cavalry are coming by the road of the Zer Jharokha. [Zer Jharokha is literally “under the lattice,” but appears to be a name given generally to the ground immediately under the lattices of the palace.] I looked and saw about 15 men of the Company’s regular Cavalry, then about 150 yards distant. They were dressed, some of them in uniform, but a few had Hindustani clothes on. I immediately suggested… [MS. Torn] to have the gate fastened by which entrance to the palace from the ‘Zer Jharokha’s is obtained, and this had scarcely been done when five or six of the sowars [cavalry men] came up to the closed gate…. The sowars, commenced calling out “Dohai Badshah”, or “Help O King”, “we pray for assistance in our fight for the faith.” The King hearing this, made no response…
The King… gave orders, for all the gates of the palace to be closed; but answer was given that the Infantry, viz. some of 38th Native Infantry, who were on guard at the palace, would not allow of such being done. After a lapse of some time the Cavalry, to the number of about 50, rode up to the Hall of Special Audience, dismounted, and picketed their horses in the adjoining garden. The Infantry…. of all the three Delhi regiments, also came into the palace enclosures, and laid down their beddings in any of the palace buildings that they could make available. The Infantry from Meerut… joined the Infantry of the Delhi regiments in spreading their bedding over all parts of the palace enclosures…
The greatest and the most widespread armed uprising which shook the foundations of British rule in India took place in 1857. The accumulating hatred against British rule which had resulted in numerous though localized, outbreaks burst forth in a mighty rebellion in 1857. The dispossessed rulers of Indian states, the nobles and the zamindars who had been deprived of their lands, the Indian soldiers of Britain’s army in India, and the vast masses of peasants, artisans and others who had been ruined by British economic pockets, powers and had been rising up in revolt in their isolated pockets, were now united by the common aim of overthrowing British rule. The introduction of greased cartridges which showed the British rulers’ complete disregard of the religious beliefs of the Indian people provided the immediate cause of the revolt. In March 1857, Mangal Pandey was executed in Barrackpore for rebelling against their introduction. The uprising began in Meerut on 10 May 1857 when the Indian soldiers killed their British officers and marched to Delhi. They were joined by the soldiers stationed in Delhi and proclaimed the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II as the Emperor of India. The rebellion spread like wild fire and the British rule ceased to exist over a vast part of northern and central India for many months. The major centres of the revolt, besides Delhi, where some of the most fierce battles were fought were Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Bundelkhand and Arrah. Local revolts took place in many other parts of the country. Among the prominent leaders of the uprising were Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Bakht Khan, Azimullah Khan, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmadullah, Bahadur Khan and Rao Tula Ram.
A song composed, 25 years ago for Bharat ki Chhap to mark the anniversary of the 1857 uprising by the soldiers of the East India Company.

Maulvi Liaqat Ali : An Icon of the 1857 Uprising at Allahabad

"Maulvi Liaqat Ali : An Icon of 1857 Uprising at Allahabad, a historic account of the Mughal Governor of Allahabad who fought against the British in 1857.

“It was past the dinnertime of night  June 6, 1857. The place was mess of 6 Native Infantry Cantonment of Allahabad. The guest English officers were dining and wining amidst the tinkering of glasses and loud merry making noises, and at the same time sharing pleasantries with the soldiers. The occasion of celebration was the Commendation message for the Regiment sent by the Governor General. Dinner was all over. The officers were preparing to leave. The silence of night was broken by boom-boom gunfire that took the English officers to surprise. Somebody shouted that the Pandes from Banaras had come. They had no time to dress themselves fully but got hold of their arms and rushed out. There was only one thing waiting for them, their death, as the native infantry soldiers started shooting their own officers from close range. That was the announcement of the Uprising of 1857 and more was to follow. Allahabad city and district was thrown at the mercy of Hooligans. Widespread destruction, looting and bona-fire followed. Precious human lives were lost. 

Maulvi Liaqat Ali of Mahgoan then arrived on the scene and took control of the situation. He enforced the law and order in the city. He introduced discipline amongst his followers. He enthused the people to join the Freedom Struggle against the British.
From his military operational headquarters at Khusro Bagh, he conducted the war against the so-called "Infidels". He attempted to take the Allahabad Fort then under English occupation but failed. He had severe resource constraints but had the masses behind him.

The English constantly chased him but he eluded them for the rest of the six months of 1857 by remaining in North India. With the top Uprising leaders mostly defeated and driven in the Nepal Tharai, Maulvi Liaqat Ali travelled to Bhopal and settled in Surat district of Gujarat.

In 1872, he was apprehended at Bombay V.T. Railway Station due to the treachery of his friends. He was tried in the Court of Law and sentenced to Penal Settlement in Andamans (Kaala Paani) where he died in the year 1892. This is saga of a man who stood but never bent before the tyranny of a Foreign Rule."

11th May 1857, song, Bharat ki Chhap Episode 10: Colonialism & the Industrial Revolution 1800 to 1900

The Times of India reported last year 1857 revolt news clippings: Reports went from fair to pro-British that Amit Pathak, a city-based historian, has in his possession a rare set of original newspapers that chronicled what was later referred to as the 'Indian Mutiny of 1857.' "The Illustrated London News and Illustrated Times, which I acquired in an online auction, covered in great detail the events of 1857, and are perhaps the only exhaustive documents existing presently which chronicle how the British press viewed the Revolt, " says Pathak.
These newspapers, adds Pathak, are unique since they contain original lithographs (old prints) of action scenes of 1857 and also pictures of freedom fighters like Tantya Tope and Begum Hazrat Mahal which are not available anywhere else. "When one goes through the reporting in these papers, it is quite evident that during the first few months, the reportage was balanced and unbiased, but later the event coverage seemed to be tilted in favour of the British," says the historian, who has also authored a book titled '1857: Living History.'
Particularly interesting is the news report which first chronicled that the revolt had taken place. "In this day and age when news of any event is almost instantaneous, it would be difficult to imagine that the first report of the uprising was published on June 13, almost a month after the event in The Illustrated London News," says Pathak. The report stated, "A telegraphic despatch received at Bombay from Meerut states that the 3rd Bengal Cavalry were in open mutiny, and that several officers and men had been killed and wounded."

The first few days of reporting, he says, gave a largely unbiased view of the incident. "When one goes through the contents of these papers, one can sense the great amount of uncertainty that prevailed in Britain at that time. No one at that time knew what would be the outcome of the uprising, whether India will attain its independence and what repercussions will it have on the other colonies of the Great Britain. There were also apprehensions about the well-being of the British citizens who were 'trapped' in India at that point of time. These newspapers carry the emotions, the excitement and feelings of individuals who are experiencing the events in real time."




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