Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Vellore Mutiny

Over fifty years before the Indian Rebellion, Indian sepoys rose up against the British East India Company in Vellore. Hopelessly outnumbered by the mutineers, over 200 British troops were killed or wounded in the twenty four hours that followed and reprisals against those who had taken part were widespread and merciless.


Photograph of the fort at Vellore
The fort at Vellore

In 1806 the British introduced a new dress code for Indian soldiers that forbade the wearing of caste-marks, earrings and beards; in addition, they were required to trim their moustaches and replace the traditional turban with a British-approved, partially leather version. A number of sepoys protested about these changes, which had been made without consultation, and were imprisoned, lashed and dismissed from the army as a result. At this, resentment amongst the sepoys reached boiling point, the conditions set for mutiny.

Following the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, his family were detained at the fort in Vellore by the British and one of his daughters was set to marry on 9th July 1806. Using this as cover, the mutineers were able to assemble en masse without arousing suspicion. In the very early hours of 10th July they moved through the barracks killing 115 members of the 69th Regiment including all senior officer and a number of Indian officers. As dawn broke the fort was in the hands of the mutineers, the flag of the Mysore Sultanate raised as Tipu's son, Fateh Hyder, was crowned King.

Their victory was to be short lived as those who fled the fort raised the alarm at the military garrison in Arcot. By mid-morning the mutineers were surrounded by the British 19th Light Dragoons and members of the Madras cavalry led by renowned officer, Sir Rollo Gillespie. Blasting open the gates that the sepoys had carelessly failed to secure, the surviving men of the 69th Regiment charged the fort with the relief force following. The sepoys who challenged them were killed where they stood, with a hundred more lined up outside the fort and shot dead. Hundreds of mutineers and British were killed at Vellore and many more sepoys would be imprisoned or executed following trials.

The Vellore mutiny had failed. With no long-term strategy or organisation beyond the seizing of the fort, the mutineers were effectively left to sit and wait for the British relief to arrive in force. Following the uprising the British officers who had pushed through the inflammatory new dress codes were recalled to England and disciplined, whilst Lord William Bentinck, the Governor of Madras, was also recalled. As a result of the mutiny the British were forbidden from further involvement in matters of religion and tradition of the sepoys was abolished and flogging was outlawed across all Indian regiments.


Engraving of Lord William Bentinck by Thomas Lawrence
Lord William Bentinck by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1804
Just over fifty years later there would be another rebellion in India and this one would not be put down in the space of twenty four hours. There would be more lessons to learn and many, many more lives lost, but that is a story for another era.


Photograph of the Vellore Memorial Pillar
The Vellore Memorial Pillar

2 comments:

  1. George Shipway wrote an excellent novel about this back in the 1970s - I believe it was "Strangers in the Land"

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    1. I'm going to search this one out; such an interesting setting for a novel.

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