The first call of revolt against the British was given by the Bharatiya sepoys on 10 July 1806, about 5 decades before the 1857 first independence war. The mutiny broke out in the Vellore fort located in Vellore city in Tamil Nadu.
The Vellore Fort belongs to the Vijayanagar Era and was constructed around 1566 CE. It was under the control of Bijapur Sultans, Marathas and Mughals before finally passing into British hands. Two Madras regiment infantry regiments were stationed at the fort in 1806 when the revolt broke out.
General Sir John Craddock, who was then the Commander in Chief of the Madras Army, passed an order commanding the soldiers to replace their turbans with a cockade hat which was at that time associated with Christianity. This order coupled with the compulsory imposition of a dress code that prohibited Hindu soldiers from sporting a tilak and compelled Muslim soldiers to shave their beards offended the sensibilities of both communities.
The dress code change was introduced in November 1805. A few sepoys who protested against the orders were sent to Fort Saint George in May 1806 where severe punishment was meted out to them. This act against the sepoys coupled with the insensitive orders acted as immediate triggers.
The sepoys generally resided outside the fort walls along with their families. They were looking for the right opportunity which presented in the form of a parade scheduled on 10 July for which they had to assemble at the fort the previous day.
In the early hours of the morning, the sepoys went on a rampage. 14 Madras regiment officers and 115 members belonging to the 69th regiment were killed in their sleep. Among the dead was the fort’s commander Colonel St. John Fancourt.
The fort’s control passed into the hands of the sepoys by the morning of 10 July. The sepoys then raised the Mysore flag and declared Tipu Sultan’s second son, who had been held captive in the fort, as the ruler.
The garrison in Arcot was, however, informed of the mutiny by Major Coopes who had managed to flee. Reinforcements were sent from Arcot under the leadership of Sir Rollo Gillespie. The force comprised of 19th Light Dragoons, galloper guns, and a Madras Cavalry squadron.
Gillespie reached Vellore with 20 men ahead of the main reinforcements. On reaching the fort, Gillespie learned that about 60 officers belonging to the 69th regiment were putting up resistance to the rebelling sepoys but had run out of ammunition. He scaled the fort walls using a rope as the gates had been shut by the rebels. Gillespie then ordered the reinforcements that had arrived to blow open the gates.
As the galloper guns blew up the gates, members of Light Dragoons and Madras Cavalry charged in gunning down every Bharatiya sepoy who resisted. The carnage had only just begun and the British forces soon located the 100 sepoys who had taken refuge within the fort premises. In what turned out to be the bloodiest carnage, the 100 sepoys were lined up against the wall and gunned down.
The mutiny was brutally crushed thus securing the British hold while leaving about 350 Bharatiya sepoys dead and several others injured. The fate awaiting the surviving rebels was as horrifying as the brutal massacre of the mutineers if not more. 6 rebel sepoys were gunned down, 5 were ordered to be shot dead by the firing squad, 8 sepoys were given the noose, and 5 others were transported for life.
The revolt created such fear among the British overlords that it came to be considered as one of the first signs of the British losing an empire. Even though it was a short-lived revolt lasting just a day and brutally subdued by the next morning, it set the ground for numerous revolts that broke out from time to time culminating in what came to be termed as the first war of independence – the 1857 revolt.
- Vellore Mutiny – Shri Ratnakar Sadasyula (Source)
- DT Next article – Tharian Mathew (Source)
- Vellore Mutiny – India Today (Source)
(Featured Image Source: India Today)
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