Sunday 10 May 1857 was a stinking hot day, so hot that the 18:30 evening church parade had been postponed for half an hour.
The day before, 85 men from the 3rd Light Cavalry, a native regiment, had been marched onto the European infantry parade ground in the presence of all the troops based at Meerut, a significant military base 73k north east of Delhi. Many of the 85 had long services records. Following the reading of the sentences, they were stripped of their uniforms, their boots removed and shackles attached to their legs. They were then marched to the new goal to begin their sentences. Both the native troops and people living in the town surrounding the Indian lines were angry. Now this anger would break out in violence.
That Saturday evening, a number of European officers were warned by loyal staff that rebellion might break out. The warnings were passed onto senior officers who refused to believe them. Our men would not do that. This will pass. This view was not shared by those warned. Many did not regard the treatment afforded the men as just, a view shared by far more senior officials in the East India Company up to the Governor-General himself.
That Sunday afternoon Hugh Gough, a young lieutenant in the 3rd Light Cavalry, was Orderly Officer of the Day. Gough, one of those who did not believe in the fairness of the punishment and who had visited his men in gaol the day before after their imprisonment, was also one of those warned. After church, he had spent the morning playing with his pet bear and leopard. Now dressing for duty, he was told that the Indian lines were on fire. Galloping down, he came under fire from the sepoys (native troops) and barely made his escape. By morning, some fifty European men, women and children were dead, most cut to pieces.
The Indian Mutiny had begun.
Note to readers:
This is part of my train reading series, in this case based on Christopher Hibbert's The Great Mutiny: India 1857 ( Pelican). Over the next week or so, I plan to meander around those tumultuous events in the midst of other writing. Just for something a little bit different, just because I am on an India kick.