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End of Mutiny, Episode 52 - 28/02/06


Bengal Sepoys (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

Plainclothes Bengal Sepoys
(Getty Images)
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Officially the Indian Mutiny ended in 1859. The rebellion rattled the British Establishment and surprised the British public, most of which thought the Raj was invincible. The main consequence of the uprising was the removal of the last responsibilities in India of the East India Company and the taking over of the sub-continent by The Crown.

This was an era of great change for the British. During less than twenty years they had needed to cope with the Irish famine, the revival of the Chartists, two wars against the Sikhs, revolutions in Austria, France, Germany and Italy, fighting in southern Africa, two years of the Crimea War, the Arrow War in China and now the sepoy rebellion.

When Palmerston's administration fell to the Liberals in February 1858, there were three India Bills left on the floor of the House. An early correction to the inefficiencies of the Raj was the restructuring of the army and the way the subcontinent was administered. Yet the British army still appeared as an army of occupation. Moreover, there were few resources for reconstruction even though a decisive plan to do just that was quickly enacted through the efficient inquiry chaired by Major General Jonathan Peel, brother of the late Prime Minister.

Should there have been a proper all India mutiny (which the 1857 had not been) then the British may well have been on the run from India. In 1858 it was the army that would remind India that the British had ultimate power.

India was a huge area to cover for a British command system used to operating as a much smaller territorial unit. India had five natural divisions: the east coast, the west coast, the Indus valley and the Ganges valley and the outer territories of Burma, the Straits of Singapore and of course, Ceylon. Also, the north west frontier army guarded against the ever expected invasion from Afghanistan. The British still believed that the Russians had designs on India and that they would come through Afghanistan.

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Historical Figure

Bartle Frere (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

Bartle Frere
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Bartle Frere 1815-1884

Sir Henry Bartle, a former Haileybury scholar, spent his career in colonial administration. He was considered one of the British heroes of the Mutiny. He was chief-commissioner of Sind and managed to contain the rebellion. His reports and assessments on the future of the Raj and in particular the financing, resourcing and command of the army remained required reading on colonial military matters long after he had left India. His last memorable posting in the subcontinent was as governor of Bombay (1862-1867). In 1877 he became Governor and High Commissioner of the Cape, but his South African career was not successful and he was recalled to London after he was accused of poor organizing and treatment of the Zulu population.

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Did You Know...

When the first viceroy of India was appointed he retained the title Governor General as a mark of his job as 'managing director' of the nation.

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Contemporary Sources

Sir Bartle Frere argues for reorganisation of the Indian Army

From a letter from Bartle Frere to Colonel Durand, 1858

"It strikes me we have very generally forgotten that the main question is one of finance. We are now, with no external war on our hands, living far beyond our income, which is at best limited, not capable of rapid extension, and, in some important items, very precarious. The vital question is not What army would we think desirable or efficient? But What army can we afford? It seems to me that in the strictest military point of view, the restoration of our finances and credit is the first thing to be thought of; that a surplus income, good credit, and a contented Native population which needs no large force to keep it from rising are as important to the Commander in Chief as a powerful and well appointed army. The most sceptical must now be convinced that admitting the re-conquest of India over and over again to be within the power of England, no Army which it can be worth our while to maintain could hold India, unless we can revert to our old normal condition, when our subjects generally acquiesced passively in our rule and when we were rarely reminded that it was necessary to use our army, except against the independent or semi-independent states."

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