On July 10th 1806, the Vellore mutiny broke out against the British by south Indian soldiers at Vellore (now in Tamil Nadu).
The Vellore Mutiny was the first large-scale mutiny by Indian soldiers against the British, setting the stage for the 1857 mutiny. Even though this mutiny was short lived and lasted only one day, it was violent and bloody and mutineers stormed into the Vellore Fort and killed and wounded as many as 200 British soldiers. This sudden outbreak was suppressed by the British and around 100 mutineers were executed and a smaller number were court-martialed.
Like the 1857 mutiny, the foundation of this mutiny was a religious one too. The sepoy dress code was changed in 1805 under which Hindu soldiers were not allowed to wear any kind of religious marks on their foreheads and it was made mandatory for Muslims to shave their beards and trim their moustaches. Further, General Sir John Craddock, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army made it compulsory for all solders to wear a round hat, which was largely associated with Europeans and Christians in place of the turban they had been wearing. Both Hindus and Musilms were enraged by this, because it went against the warning by the Military Board which said that all uniform changes should be given due consideration as they were delicate matters. Rumors had also begun to float that this was the beginning of a process of converting them to Christianity, further infuriating the soldiers.
The British, on the other hand, made these changes thinking that they would improve the soldiers’ looks. In May 1806, a few soldiers who protested against this change in uniform were sent to Fort St. George where they were both given 90 lashes each and removed from the army. Nineteen other sepoys who protested were given 50 lashes each and were asked to apologize to the East India Company. This rebellion was further instigated by the sons of the deceased Tipu Sultan, who nursed many grudges against the British and helped the sepoys in their uprising.
The garrison of the Vellore Fort composed of four companies of the British Infantry and three battalions of the Madras Infantry. In the early hours of the morning, the sepoys began their attack and started by killing Colonel Fancourt who was commanding the garrison. Next to be killed was Colonel Me Kerras of the 23rd regiment, following which Major Armstrong was gunned down by the soldiers. Major Cootes who was outside the fort hurried to Ranipet and informed Colonel Gillespie who reached the fort immediately.
In the meantime, the rebels had announced Tipu Sultan’s son Futteh Hyder as their new ruler and had hoisted a tiger flag atop the fort. This uprising was brought to an end by Colonel Gillespie. 800 Indian soldiers had died in this mutiny and 600 soldiers were imprisoned in Vellore and Tiruchi. Some rebels were shot dead by the British and some were hanged and eventually the mutiny was brought to an end.
Tipu sultan’s son was sent to Kolkata (then Calcutta) and the Commander-in-Chief and the Governor were recalled. Also, religious interference with the soldiers was done away with and so was flogging of soldiers in the Indian regiment. There is quite a bit of similarity in the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 and the Rebellion of 1857, though the latter was on a much larger scale and is often described as the first war of Indian Independence. In 1857, the sepoys tried to quell British rule by announcing Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India, just like the mutinees tried to give power to Tipu Sultan’s son in 1806. Apart from that, anger against disrespect of religious sentiments of the soldiers was another major cause of unrest.
Also On This Day:
1927: Ganga Ram, who founded Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, dies in England.
1949: Sunil Manohar Gavaskar is born in Mumbai.
1964: Bangalore University is established in the state of Karnataka.