1857: The mutineer Jemadar Issuree Pandy

Add comment April 21st, 2017 Headsman

From the Annals of the Indian Rebellion, 1857-58:


This Jemadar of the 34th Regiment N.I. was brought to trial on the following charges: —

1st. For having at Barrackpore on the 29th March 1857, he being then in command of the quarter-guard of his regiment, not used his utmost or any endeavours to suppress a mutiny begun by Mungul Pandy, the said sepoy having on the afternoon of the day above mentioned, gone out into the parade ground in front of and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment armed with a sword and musket; and then and there used words to excite the men of the reigment to come forth and join him in resistance to lawful authority; and having then and there on the parade ground, and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment, discharged his loaded musket at Serjeant Major James Thornton Hewson, and Lieutenant Bempole Henry Baugh, of the 34th Regiment N.I., and then and there with a sword struck, and severely wounded, the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjeant Major Hewson, and the said Jemadar not having taken any measures to arrest and confine the said sepoy throughout the aforesaid occurrences, nor to assist the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjenat Major Hewson, and he [sic] the said Jemadar having, moreover, then and there discouraged and interfered to prevent any sepoys of his guard from going to their assistance.

2nd. For disobedience to the lawful command of his superior officers in not having advanced with his guard to rescue the Serjeant and capture the aforesaid sepoy, Mungul Pandy, when shortly after the occurrences, set forth in the first charge, he was ordered to do so by Brevet Colonel S.G. Wheler, commanding the 34th Regiment N.I.

The Court found the prisoner, Jemadar Issurree Pandy, guilty of both charges preferred against him, and sentenced him to suffer death. On the 21st April 1857 Major General Hearsey reported as follows: —

Jemadar Issuree Pandy was duly hanged by the neck this afternoon at 6 o’clock in presence of all the troops at the station; the crimes, finding, and sentence of the General Court Martial before which he was arraigned, approved and confirmed by His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, having been first carefully explained to all the native corps.

It may be perhaps satisfactory to the Government to know that when on the scaffold the Jemadar made a voluntary confession of his guilt, and admitted the justice of the sentence which had been passed on him, at the same time imploring all his fellow soldiers who were present to take warning by his untimely fate.

They didn’t.

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1860: Khan Bahadur Khan Rohilla, Bareilly rebel

Add comment February 24th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1860, the British hanged Khan Bahadur Khan Rohilla, a Pashtun leader who when India revolted in 1857 set up a short-lived independent government at Bareilly.*

Having word of the burgeoning rebellion elsewhere on the subcontinent, Bareilly’s native troops mutinied on May 31, 1857. Three captured European civilians were shot that evening; three more followed the next day.

Though Bareilly did not furnish the most spectacular massacre of the rebellion, it was one of several** that became grist for industrial Britain’s burgeoning mass media … and reports of bloody deeds prepared the British public to respond in kind. One Englishman wrote the London Times on June 3 (it was published on July 14): “When this crisis shall have passed, stern and unflinching vengeance on those who have mutinied and been guilty of atrocities, tempered with judicious and gracious clemency to those who were only misled into a willingness to joining them, will, I fondly hope, tend greatly to create and consolidate a lasting loyalty throughout our native troops.”

Other Britons were far more interested in the unflinching vengeance than the lasting loyalty. Outraged at the news that the Governor-General of India was offering mutineers amnesty, one wrote in a private correspondence on October 4,

I wish I were Commander in Chief in India. The first thing I would do to strike that Oriental race with amazement (not in the least regarding them as if they lived in the Strand, London, or at Camden Town), would be to proclaim to them in their language, that I considered my Holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested; and that I begged them to do me the favor to observe that I was there for that purpose and no other, and was now proceeding, with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth.

That imperial genocide enthusiast was a liberal man of letters known to be downright softhearted when beholding his own countrymen condemned to death singly: Charles Dickens.

After the initial shock of the various risings, Great Britain set about methodically putting down the revolt.

In 1858, it was Bareilly’s turn. Fresh off defeating the most vigorous rebel commander Tantia Tope, the British commander Colin Campbell wrapped up the Indian campaign by marching his Highland regiments “in red coats, kilt, and feather bonnet, under a blazing sun, showing 112 degrees in the shade.”

That wished-for stern and unflinching vengeance marched with them.

Sergeant David McAusland of the 42nd Highland Regiment recalled that during his service in Bareilly during the Rebellion, “three scaffolds and six whipping posts stood outside of the town along side of the jail and there [took place] executions to the number of six every day.” The judge in charge of trials had lost his wife during the conflict, and had told McAusland, “if ever I get the chance of [judging] these Black rebels I will hang a man for every hair that was in my wife’s head.” McAusland responded by asking him how many men he had executed already, “he told me close on 700 well I said if you just continue you will have made good your work and turning to Sergt … Aden I said you mind what Sir Colin [Campbell] said to us at Cawnpore that every man that had a black face was our enemy and we could not do wrong in shooting him so you know how to act here.” (Source pdf, an essay eventually integrated into the author’s book-length study Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914

As the man who had styled himself chief of Bareilly in opposition to British power could scarcely expect to escape such indiscriminate revenge.

“The complicity of this wretched man in the atrocities committed at Bareilly admits of no doubt whatever, and to allow him to escape from the gallows would be an outrage upon the memory of his unhappy victims,” the London Times reported on April 21, 1860, upon receiving (much belated) word of his execution.

* Great Britain’s initial seizure of Bareilly (Rohilkhand) from Khan Bahadur Khan’s ancestors in a 1774 war became part of the impeachment case Edmund Burke leveled against colonial official Warren Hastings. As we’ve seen elsewhere on this site, that remarkable charge also involved a shady execution.

** The largest and most inflammatory, of course, was Cawnpore/Kanpur.

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1859: Tantia Tope, Indian independence hero

2 comments April 18th, 2009 Headsman

This is the sesquecentennial of Tantia Topi’s hanging for what is sometimes called India’s First War of Independence.

Tantia Topi — there are many variations of the name — commanded Indian troops when a mutiny mushroomed into outright revolt.

Putatively in the service of a rebellious lord, Topi immediately established himself as the cause’s most capable commander. His forces bloodily seized Cawnpore (Kanpur) in a heady surprise victory during the conflict’s opening stages.

A British counterattack overturned that promising development. The Indian lord was captured, but “all the capacity for resistance that he ever displayed” had been supplied by Topi. Now, Topi found a more impressive liege in Rani Lakshmibai, and deployed his genius for soldiery in a fast-evolving war — harrying the occupiers in both conventional and (increasingly) guerrilla-style combat.

The rebels were outclassed; the time was not yet ripe — but Topi’s was the model of anticolonial guerrilla insurgency that would figure so prominently in the next century.

Topi’s exploits and elusiveness, maintaining his freedom in the field long after every other pillar of the uprising had collapsed, made him a domestic hero, and formed a continuing theme in the British press in 1858 and 1859. He was genuinely admired by his enemies as a soldier, however much his cause was abhorred. (The stiff-upper-lippers dinged him for inadequate personal courage, however.)

Topi was taken, at last, by betrayal, and dead at the order of a drumhead military court within days.

But the day after the London Times published its report of the popular hero’s hanging (“a great scramble was made by officers and others to get a lock of hair, &c”), it editorially eulogized* Topi with the gusto of victor catching, perhaps, the foreshadow of Indian resistance awaiting in generations still to come.

He raised armies as fast as we could disperse them, took up one position after another to our infinite annoyance, and led us a chace which, despite of unexampled efforts on the part of our soldiers, seemed to be really endless. Our troops pursued him without intermission, contrived more than once to surprise him, repeatedly captured his artillery and scattered his troops, but could never deprive him entirely of followers or guns. He seemed to summon forces from the earth as if by magic. As the pursuit grew hotter and hotter he mounted his men on ponies and camels, and marched, it is said, at the average rate of 60 miles a-day. Wherever we found him he had always cavalry and guns, and these he posted with remarkable skill.

Be it remembered that for half a century we had been training soldiers, and that in Bengal alone there were 150,000 natives under arms when this revolt broke out. Now, in all this enormous host there was not a single man who, when the bonds of allegiance and discipline were abruptly removed, displayed the intuitive capacities of a military commander. … The two years of the revolt, with all their opportunities, never produced one native General. … One man alone reproduced the old Indian character, and that man was TANTIA TOPEE — an obscure civilian, without place or power. He, by the light of nature alone, discerned the strong points of the rebels’ position and our own weak points. By the exercise of that faculty with which heroes are gifted he could always, even in his most desperate straits, draw followers to his standard. …

Nothing could more forcibly illustrate the reputation which this man had acquired than the fact that his fate has been attended with some regret … if he had not met his match in those opposed to him he might have founded a dynasty.

* May 21, 1859. Information moved a little slower.

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