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Mutinous firsts

Standing tall: Witness to a bloody battle. Photo: D.Gopalakrishnan  

We know that the Sepoy Mutiny that took place in 1857 is considered the First War of Independence. But did you know that it may not have been the first? The first uprising happened on July 10, 1806 — over 50 years before the 1857 revolt.

Much like the Revolt of 1857, this uprising also stems from hurt religious sentiments. General Sir John Craddock, commander-in-chief of the Madras Army had ordered that Indian soldiers must wear a round hat with a cow leather cockade in place of the turban, which they were used to wearing. Hindu soldiers were not allowed to wear any religious marks on their forehead and Muslim soldiers were asked to shave their beards and trim their moustaches. Indian soldiers were enraged as this order interfered directly with their religious freedom, and decided to strike back.

Stealth operation

With the intention of catching the British off guard, the day for the uprising was chosen to coincide with the marriage of one of Tipu’s daughter. Soldiers came in disguises to gather for the wedding and had planned to take over the fort while the festivities were still going on the next day.

In the early hours of July 10, at the garrison in Vellore Fort (in Tamil Nadu), around 500 Indian soldiers blasted their way to where the Europeans were stationed, and opened fire on the British. Colonel Fancourt, who commanded the garrison, Colonel Me Kerras of the 23rd Regiment, and Major Armstrong were killed. The British soldiers did not fight back as they were outnumbered, and fled. Fifteen British officers and over 100 soldiers were found dead at the end of the attack.

Jamaidar Shaik Cossim, one of the chief plotters of the rebellion, hoisted the Tipu Sultan’s Royal tiger flag over the fort, and Fateh Hyder Bahadur, Tipu’s second son, was declared king. But the uprising hardly lasted a few hours, and went astray for lack of leadership. Tipu’s sons were reluctant to take charge, soldiers had started looting European houses, others were engaged in abusing the ones who did not participate in the rebellion, and amid the confusion, a British officer, who survived, made his way to the garrison at Arcot to warn the troops there.

The British hardly took any time to react. Sir Rollo Gillespie led a relief force from Arcot to Vellore. Two cavalry units with heavy ammunition arrived at the fort two hours later. It was not easy for Sir Gillespie to enter the fort. But with the aid of the surviving British soldiers, the gates to the fort that were heavily manned by Indian soldiers were blown away.

The British recaptured the fort, hunted down and killed the rebelling Indian soldiers, and executed the remaining at point blank range. In all, 800 Indian soldiers are believed to have lost their lives in the mutiny.

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Printable version | Oct 13, 2021 12:13:15 AM |

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