(Last Updated on : 01-12-2008)
Lord Canning and his councillors, during the end of May, were striving to strengthen that weak middle piece (between Delhi and the Uttar Pradesh
presidencies) upon the security of which, the safety of the Empire seemed to depend. For a moment the opinion prevailed that the second of these contingencies would happen first. For, the strength of Delhi was greatly underestimated, and the majority of British residents, believed that the appearance of General Anson before the gates of the city would suffice to stimulate the rebels to surrender it. That was certainly the opinion of Lord Canning
and his councillors. It was under the influence of this conviction that the Home Secretary had scorned the offers of the Englishmen and foreigners who had volunteered to enrol themselves.
But the first week of June saw the hopes of the Government crudely shattered. Thick as hailstones, post by post, came tidings of disaster. Accounts of the mutinies at Kanhpur (Kanpur), at Allahabad, at Lucknow (Lucknow), of the abandonment of Oudh, of revolts and murders at Azamgarh
, at Juanpur, at Benaras, at Jhansi
, followed one another in quick succession. To counterbalance these misfortunes, came the news of Brigadier Wilson's victory at Ghazi-ud-din Nagar on the 31st of May. But the information, which reached Calcutta about the same time, that General Anson had succumbed to cholera at Karnal, on the 27th, seemed at the moment a calamity great enough to outweigh even this victory.
Lord Canning and his councillors, however, made a great attempt to repair it. They telegraphed to Madras for Sir Patrick Grant, Commanding-in-Chief at that Presidency, to come up to Calcutta to substitute Anson. Grant was an officer in the Bengal army who had filled the office of Adjutant-General. It was supposed that, in the existing terrible crisis, one who had been able to rise to such a position would possess experience from which the Government might profit. The mistake was a natural one, but it was nonetheless a mistake. A clerk promoted to the headship of the department in which he has served, is seldom able to lift his mind above mundane work. So it was with Sir Patrick Grant. Sent for in the crisis of a mutiny, whilst the entire country was surging with revolt, he arrived with his mind full of reconstruction and reorganisation. He was unable to become successful till the last. For all the good he effected, he might as well have remained at Madras.
Before Grant arrived the news from the revolted districts became more alarming by the day. To the list might be added Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand
, and a part of Central India. The Government was indeed to be pitied. Little more than a fortnight had elapsed since they had refused the offers of the British and foreign residents of Calcutta to volunteer, on the ground that all difficulties had been arrested. And now insurrection was approaching daily nearer to their doors.
For the state of the three-armed native regiments, within fifteen miles of Calcutta, was such as to cause great alarm. The followers of the ex-King of Oudh, considerable in number and hostile in feeling, teemed in a very near suburb of the capital. Lord Canning could not but feel, under these circumstances, that he had been somewhat hasty in rudely repulsing the offers made to volunteer on the 25th of May. On the 1lth of June, then, he sent for the Town-Major, Major Cavenagh, and consulted with him as to the advisability of yielding the prayer which he had previously rejected. The advice of Cavenagh was in entire harmony with his character. On the following day, then, the necessary orders were issued. The enrolment began immediately, and in an incredibly short span of time the Government had at its disposal a serviceable body of gentlemen - horse, foot, and artillery.
The order for the enrolment of the volunteers had been issued on the 12th of June. On the 13th, the Governor-General and his councillors passed an Act to curb the press. That some restraint was mandatory for the native press may be admitted, for it was preaching sedition all over the country. But to include in the curbing measure the loyal English press, was considered as a poor return to the independent classes of Calcutta. The feeling spawned by the inclusion of the English press in this otherwise necessary Act was, then, very bitter, and remained so to the very last.
The Act was read three times a day, and passed. The day was a Saturday. At a late hour that night Sir John Hearsey, commanding at Barrackpur
, sent an express to Lord Canning telling him that he had certain information that the sipahis of his brigade would rise the following day. He had thus ordered down from Chunchura
the 78th Highlanders, and that, with their aid and that of the 35th foot and a battery of guns, he proposed to disarm the sipahis the following day. Lord Canning gave him the required permission.
There was just this reason for the alarm. The native regiments at Barrackpur had contemplated rising on that day. The admirable foresight and energy of General Hearsey defeated their plans. That Saturday night, he summoned, by express, the 78th Highlanders from Chunchura. One wing of the regiment started at once, and though misdirected by a guide, reached Barrackpur at daybreak. The other wing came in about three hours later. At four o'clock in the afternoon Hearsey paraded the brigade-the three native regiments, a wing of the 35th foot, the 78th, the two latter having their muskets loaded with ball, and a battery of artillery, the guns of which were also ready for action. The sipahis obeyed without a murmur the orders given to them to pile their arms. The danger was over. It was the dread of what might have happened which had led so many Calcuttan to believe that it had happened.
Early the following morning the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Edmonstone
, escorted by a party of English soldiers, proceeded to the residence of the ex-King of Oudh at Garden Reach. At the interview which followed with that prince, informed him that the demands of the time required that he should change his quarters to Fort William
. The ex-King behaved with dignity and modesty, protesting in the most solemn manner that neither by word nor deed had he encouraged the mutineers. He declared himself ready to proceed wheresoever the Governor-General might direct. Taken to the fort, accompanied by his late prime minister and a few other nobles, he was lodged in the Governor-General's own house. There his comforts were thoroughly attended to.
The day after this event, Sir Patrick Grant arrived in Calcutta and took up the titular command of the army. He did not quit the city during his six weeks' tenure of office. His presence there may then be passed over as an incident not affecting the progress of affairs.
The next day, the 17th, the news of the action fought by General Barnard before Delhi reached the capital. It was even rumoured that the success was greater than that which had been achieved, and that Delhi had fallen.
Everyone expected that it would be so. In the euphoria caused by the impression, Lord Canning, four days later, despatched a request to Barnard to send down a column to clear the weak middle part of the Duab. But the truth soon became known. Before many days had passed the Government and the public alike realised that General Barnard's task was only beginning, and that assistance for the weak middle piece would be available only from Calcutta.
Meanwhile, darkness was closing round them. At the close of the third week of June, whilst they had heard of further mutinies at Jhansi, at Naogang, at Nimach, and at Juanpur, they had no news from Kanhpur (Kanpur) and Lucknow (Lucknow) later than the 4th. Agra was safe, they knew, on the 10th. They knew likewise that Benaras and Allahabad had been made secure too.
During the next fortnight, up to the 4th of July, the accounts became more worsened. On the 2nd of July the Government heard of the mutiny of the native regiments at Kanhpur. Joined by Nana Sahib and his followers, they were beleaguering Wheeler in his entrenchment; that Sir Henry Lawrence was about to be beleaguered in the Residency at Lucknow; that Agra was safe up to the 15th, but that Bandah had gone; that the troops of the Gwaliar (present day Gwalior
, Madhya Pradesh
) contingent had mutinied on the 15th; and that an uneasy feeling prevailed at Haidarabad (present day Hyderabad
, Andhra Pradesh
). The next day Lord Canning received a letter from Sir Henry Lawrence, dated the 28th of June. The letter simply stated that the writer had every reason to believe that the English at Kanhpur had been destroyed by treachery. Certain details, which eventually proved to be correct, were added as native reports. But these reports, it was said, were not believed at Allahabad or Benaras.
The Government had up to that moment hoped that Wheeler would be able to resist until they could relieve him. One regiment had been despatched in May, under Colonel Neill, and that officer had already secured Benaras and Allahabad. It was even hoped that he would be able to leave Allahabad for Kanhpur, around the 25th of June, with the four regiments, which had been gradually collected at that station. Sir Henry Havelock, having come up with Sir Patrick Grant on the 16th, had on the 24th been directed to proceed to Allahabad to assume command of that force. He had started the very next day. But if the news received from Sir Henry Lawrence were true, he must inevitably be too late to relieve Wheeler. The situation was alarming in the extreme. If Kanhpur were indeed gone, the weak middle piece was broken into two. With rebellious Oudh on the one side, and the mutinied Gwaliar (Gwalior) contingent on the other, there was little hope that even Havelock, with his four English infantry regiments, his scanty artillery, and his volunteer horsemen could possibly prevail.