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Siege of cawnpore

A contemporary engraving of the massacre at the Satichura Ghat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons  

By June 27, 1857 the First War of Independence had spread to Cawnpore (Kanpur, as it is known today). Cawnpore was an important garrison town for the East India Company forces. It was ideally located on the Grand Trunk Road. Initially, the sepoys at Cawnpore were not a part of the war. The British General at Cawnpore, at that time, was Hugh Wheeler. He knew the local language, had adopted local customs, and to top it all was married to an Indian woman. So confident was he that his sepoys would not join the fight, he despatched two British companies to besieged Lucknow.

The British in Cawnpore numbered 900, including military men, women and children, merchants, business people, salesmen and engineers. The war was coming closer, and although there was no trouble in Cawnpore, the European families were afraid. They began to shift into the entrenchment (a military position fortified by trenches). The Indian sepoys were asked to collect their pay one by one, to avoid an armed mob.

The sepoys on their part felt threatened by the fortifications and the prepared artillery guns. There was a minor skirmish when a lieutenant fired on his Indian guard when drunk, and was jailed for a night. The next day, however, he was released. There were also rumours that the Indian troops had been summoned to a parade, where they were to be massacred. The sepoys joined the war against the East India Company on June 5.

The besieged Company forces and the civilians were not prepared for such a long siege. After almost three weeks, they surrendered to Nana Sahib, in return for a safe passage to Allahabad. Nana Sahib was the adopted heir to Baji Rao II, the ex-Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy.

The evacuation did not go as planned. There was confusion on getting into the boats, and misunderstanding causing sepoys to fire at the departing British. This was called the Satichaura Ghat massacre.

Finally, the East India Company forces stationed in Allahabad marched to Cawnpore. Women and children who had been captured by the sepoys were killed and their remains were thrown into a nearby well. After Cawnpore was recaptured, the massacre was discovered. There was outrage and Company forces retaliated with force capturing sepoys and civilians. This came to be known as the Bibighar massacre.

The murders angered and embittered the British and inspired the war cry “Remember Cawnpore”.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:58:28 PM |

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