10 July 1806
The first major mutiny by the Indian sepoys against their British masters erupted on 10th July 1806 at Vellore in present-day Tamil Nadu. Though the mutiny lasted only a day, it sent shock-waves to the British establishment.
- The Vellore Mutiny, which predated the Indian Revolt of 1857 by about 50 years, was the first instance of a major and violent mutiny by the sepoys in the army of the British East India Company.
- In November 1805, a new dress code was introduced for the sepoys of the Madras army. They were ordered to shave off their beard and forbidden from wearing religious marks on their foreheads.
- Moreover, the Madras Amy’s Commander-in-Chief John Craddock ordered the sepoys to wear round hats instead of their traditional turbans. This led to suspicion among the soldiers that they were being converted to Christianity.
- Craddock was acting against a warning from the authorities which stated that the military uniform should respect local religious sentiments.
- In May 1806, a few sepoys protested against the new rules. Two of these sepoys were punished with 90 lashes and dismissal, and 19 others were given 50 lashes each.
- Another reason for the eruption of the mutiny was the presence of the family of slain ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan in the Vellore Fort. They were placed inside a palace within the Fort. The sons of Tipu also instigated the mutiny, although they refused to take charge once the mutiny started.
- At about 2 AM on 10th July at the Vellore Fort, the mutinying sepoys killed 14 of their officers and 115 other English soldiers of the 69th Regiment of Foot. Most of the English soldiers were sleeping in their barracks.
- There were three battalions of the Madras Native Infantry.
- The commander of the fort Colonel Fancourt was also killed.
- By dawn, the sepoys had taken control of the fort and raised the flag of the Mysore Sultanate over it. They also declared Tipu’s son Fateh Hyder king.
- But a British officer named Major Coops was able to send a message to the company garrison at Arcot. After nine hours, a British force led by Rollo Gillespie arrived. Gillespie was considered very capable and efficient.
- He climbed a wall of the fort and entered it since the gate was defended by the sepoys. Along with his troops he was able to bring the fort under his control and rescue the surviving Europeans inside the fort. Now, about one hundred sepoys had taken refuge inside the palace. They were dragged outside and made to stand against a wall. Gillespie then had them executed by a firing squad.
- This brutal suppression of the revolt brought it to an end. In total, about 350 sepoys were killed and another 350 were injured. After formal trials, six sepoys were blown away from canons (a form of execution), eight were hanged and five were shot by firing squads. Five others were transported.
- The three Madras battalions involved in the mutiny were disbanded.
- John Craddock was recalled to England and the Company even refused to pay for his return trip.
- The order asking sepoys to wear round hats was cancelled. Tipu’s family stationed at Vellore Fort was moved to Calcutta.
- The then Governor of Madras William Bentinck was also recalled. The company then decided to stop interfering with the religious and social customs of the sepoys. It also decided to do away with flogging as a punishment within the native regiments.
- Although the Revolt of 1857 was on a much-larger scale, the Vellore Mutiny did have some parallels with it. The interference in the social and religious sentiments of the sepoys was a point of ignition for both revolts. In both cases, a former royal was declared as king. The 1857 revolt saw Bahadur Shah Zafar being declared as the Emperor of Hindustan, while Tipu Sultan’s son was declared as the king at Vellore.
- The brutal crushing of the Vellore Mutiny was partly responsible for the non-participation of the sepoys of Madras in the 1857 war of independence.
Also on this day
1927: Birth of social reformer Ganga Ram.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.