Chapter 201: The Indian Rebellion (Part 1)
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AN: I apologize for taking a while to update; researching a believable background for the Indian Rebellion and related factions (external and internal) took longer than I expected. But here is the first part of the long-awaited Indian Rebellion. The second part will cover the rebellion itself, which includes several battles, the Mughal Emperor's attempt to seize power and land, Britain's policy to loot the rebelling Princely States, the British government's takeover of the East India Company, the Nepal-Sikh Alliance seizing territory in the chaos, and the aftermath.


"The Turbulent Thirties," The 19th Century: 100 Years of Revolution, Innovation, and Expansion
Written by Professor Abel Fisher of Cambridge University, 2021

"... Like many events in history, the Indian Rebellion of 1835 erupted due to an accident that lit the dry tinder that merely needed a spark. Prime Minister Lansdowne's decision to withhold pay from the fifteen thousand Indian sepoys that fought and survived in the Anglo-American War, along with widespread famine in the Ceded and Conquered Provinces (which consisted of the East India Company's holdings between the Garwhal province and Rajputana, and also contained the city of Delhi) were the biggest contributing factors led to the violent rebellion. Additionally, the poor decision-making carried out by the East India Company (such as mixing higher castes sepoys from the Bengal Army with recruits from lower castes in North America and the East India Company's declaration of supremacy over the decaying Mughal Empire), the Daoguang Emperor's Anti-British Edict, and the sudden spike in taxes in India following the British defeat in the Anglo-American War have all been recognized as other factors that sparked the rebellion. By the time the rebellion finally died down in late July of 1836, over 700,000 Indians and 20,000 British soldiers and civilians were dead, and entire regions were devastated...

The Daoguang Emperor expelled British traders and merchants from Canton in 1834 and harshly cracked down on the flow of opium following his edict to remove the British from China. The reasoning behind the Daoguang Emperor's choices has been a subject of debate for decades, ranging from seizing the opportunity to kick out the British while they were at war to taking the British Empire's declaration of war against a 'tributary nation' as a grave insult to the Qing Empire. As of recently, many historians believe it was a mix of the two, especially considering that he was influenced by the United States during his short four-month visit to the republic in 1798. The then-prince was exposed to Western ideologies and culture during his stay, which sparked a greater interest in international affairs that later carried over to his reign as the Emperor of China. During the Daoguang Emperor's reign, Britain's export of opium to China increased annually, going from around 8,000 chests of opium exported in 1820 to 20,000 chests by 1830. As the opium epidemic in southern China only worsened throughout the early 19th century, despite the aid offered by American doctors, the Daoguang Emperor placed the crisis as one of his highest priorities. Several attempts were made to rehabilitate opium users and slow the spread of the drug. Still, the number of opium users grew exponentially (from 50,000 users in 1800 to over 500,000 users by 1830) and overwhelmed local Qing officials.

When the Emperor received news that Great Britain and the United States were engaged in a war, he sent a letter of support to President Peters (though this letter only arrived two years after hostilities began). In his letter, the Emperor reassured the United States that he would 'support the nation with China's strength' and that the British would 'pay for their insolence.' While the Anglo-American War was at its peak, he worked closely with his court to seize upon the distraction to expel the British, especially after the East India Company moved troops away from India and sent a part of its East Indies fleet assist the blockade of the United States. On July 9th of 1834, exactly six months after Chinese New Years, the Daoguang Emperor decreed that the British were permanently banned from Chinese soil and for the British factory in Canton to be ceded to the United States 'with due haste.'

A mere week after this decree, the Qing Imperial Navy, which boasted twenty modernized western ships, sunk four British ships (consisting of a single frigate and three British merchant ships) for refusing to depart from the waters around Canton. During this brief engagement, three Qing ships were damaged, but all of them survived the encounter. As the British were preoccupied with their massive invasion of the United States, they could not confront the Chinese about the sudden exclusion from their markets. Unsurprisingly, this led to the hasty retreat of most British nationals from Chinese soil and Britain's reliance on the Lanfang Republic for Chinese goods. And even after the end of the Anglo-American War, the destruction of many key ports within Britain and the disorder created by the Jones Raid on Britain would prevent the British government from responding properly to the Daoguang Emperor's edict. While the Canton Affair would not devolve into a war between the two sides, it would lead to the British government' irritation towards the Qing government, which would eventually contribute to the First Opium War in 1840, with Britain seeking to reinstate its China Trade by force and occupy a Chinese port to entrench themselves in the nation permanently...

The Emperor's Anti-British Edict of 1834 had a profound impact on India. Due to the East India Company's stringent land policies and high tax rates, Indian farmers rapidly moved away from food crops to cash crops in the early 19th century. Cotton and opium were some of the biggest cash crops exported by the Indian states due to the two crops' profitable nature within the British Empire. The sudden Anti-British Edict and the ensuing crackdown on opium in China led to a sudden drop in demand for opium poppies. Indian farmers heavily relied on cash crops to pay the EIC's taxes and provide their families with necessities, and when the price of poppies spiraled downwards, so did the quality of life for millions of Indians. Many farmers could not pay their significant dues to the East India Company or even provide food and goods for their families. And as the farmers' money disappeared, local merchants and shopkeepers that relied on locals to survive also suffered. To make matters worse, a drought hit the region in 1834 and caused the kharif (autumn harvest) to fail...

Despite all its territorial holdings, the EIC faced near bankruptcy after partaking in two costly wars in rapid succession (the Anglo-Burmese War of 1828-1829 and the Anglo-American War). With its monopoly on the China Trade destroyed and its prestige at an all-time low, the company decided on a set of controversial decisions that only added more tinder to the embers of rebellion. The first was an increase in the already-oppressive tax rates and direct land seizures for those that failed to pay the new taxes to sell off land to wealthy Indian nobles and landowners. The EIC justified their tax increase, claiming that they needed funds after the financially crippling Anglo-American War and the seizure of EIC weapons and supplies by the United States. In addition to this, after a dispute with Mughal Emperor Akbar II, the EIC declared supremacy from the Mughal Emperor and confined his realm to the city of Delhi, thus bringing an end to the long-standing Mughal dynasty. The declaration of supremacy was intended to publicly consolidate the company's grip of India and quash any rumors of the EIC's weakness after the Anglo-American War. However, this would only lead to the Mughal Emperor being a symbol of resistance and anti-British sentiments later on as the rebellion swept India...

This economic crash and drought, combined with the EIC's policies, directly caused the Kanpur Famine, the famine that gripped the Ceded and Conquered Provinces and caused an additional 300,000 deaths on top of the 700,000 killed due to the rebellion. In fact, the situation was so dire, and British aid was so scarce that many historians believe that numerous deaths reportedly caused by the Indian Rebellion of 1834 were deaths caused by the Kanpur Famine...

It is a well-documented fact that the Alliance invasion of the United States was a military disaster. Not only did the invasion fail, but it caused nearly all the Alliance members to suffer from social upheaval, revolution, or economic chaos (except for Portugal-Brazil, which managed to escape an economic crisis just barely). However, another factor that sparked the Indian Rebellion was the usage of Indian sepoys during the invasion. The East India Company sent over thirty thousand Indian soldiers to fight the United States during the war, with nearly all of them from the Bengal Army (the most experienced and biggest army employed by the East India Company). However, there were several regiments from the Madras Army and the Bombay Army mixed into the expedition as well.

Due to the logistical complications and Commander in Chief Gough's refusal to accommodate separate quarters for high-caste sepoys (usually from the Bengal Army) and lower-caste sepoys (from the other two Armies), the usual separation between the castes was not possible for the arriving Indian Army. As a result, the Commander In Chief of the Indian Armies, Edward Paget, forced the sepoys to share the same quarters and dining halls regardless of their caste. While Commander Paget was well-aware that this would cause a ruckus among the sepoys from the Bengal Army (especially since the Bengal Army received extensive benefits and accommodations compared to the Madras and Bombay Armies), he had little choice in the matter and sought to prevent any long-lasting damage to the best of his abilities.

Unfortunately, the high-caste Brahmins and Rajputs of the Bengal Army were not only offended but furious that they were forced to share accommodations with the lower-caste, which they believed was polluting 'the very air that they breathed.' Violence in the quarters between the Bengal Army regiments and the Madras and Bombay regiments was not uncommon; there were nineteen recorded, separate incidents of lower-caste soldiers being injured or even killed by their 'caste superiors.' As the war dragged on and the Alliance was pushed back towards the sea, three dissatisfied Bengal regiments even shot their own commanding officers and surrendered. Ironically, the United States somewhat accommodated the different castes and provided separate quarters for prisoners from the Bengal regiments due to reports of violence. The veterans of the Bengal Army that survived the war returned embittered about the Anglo-American War due to Britain's treatment of its Indian sepoys (as expendables and decoys for the British soldiers to escape) and the violation of the contract established between the East India Company and its Bengal Army...

On November 9th of 1835, sepoys of the 5th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry refused to partake in a firing drill and parade after being ordered to do so by Captain Ker Baillie-Hamilton, the commanding officer of the regiment. The 5th Regiment was stationed within Meerut, along with the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry Regiment and two British regiments. The 5th Regiment was one of the Bengal regiments deployed to the United States, and the unit suffered a casualty rate of over 50%. It was one of the few Indian regiments to escape the North American continent before the mass-surrender of Alliance soldiers during the end of the war. While the regiment did receive its general pay from the East India Company, its request for foreign service remuneration, something that the Bengal Army always received after partaking in a foreign war, was refused multiple times. This decision was heavily influenced by Prime Minister Lansdowne's decree and the East India Company's struggling finances.

The surviving veterans of the 5th Regiment were deeply offended by this slight, and their mistrust towards their British administrators only grew after the Kanpur Famine rocked the region (Meerut was also in the ceded and Conquered Provinces). Thus, they protested their situation by refusing to accept the orders of their British commander. Out of the one thousand or so men of the 5th Regiment, over six hundred of them took part in the protest.

Captain Baillie-Hamilton, a man who was only recently appointed as the new commanding officer of the 5th Regiment and was stationed within Britain during the Anglo-American War, hastily ordered the nearby 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers (also known as the 104th British Foot Regiment) to force the sepoys to heed his orders. Unsympathetic and cold towards the complaints of the Indian soldiers, the captain began an hour-long standoff between the native and European soldiers in front of the Mureet cantonment. Both sides were armed, and the situation grew increasingly tense as the British captain refused to negotiate with his subordinates. He ordered the 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers to have their weapons at the ready and shouted for the rebellious sepoys of the 5th Regiment to stand down, which they pointedly refused...

The first shot was fired by a British soldier, though his identity and motive remain unknown. Perhaps he feared for his life as the Indian sepoys also pointed their rifles at the British soldiers. Or perhaps the hot weather that day caused the soldier to experience a heatstroke. Regardless, the shot was met with a volley from the rebelling sepoys, which injured or killed over two hundred British soldiers and sparked an intense firefight that lasted ten minutes. The short, chaotic skirmish resulted in over a hundred sepoys casualties and three hundred British casualties, forcing the 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers to retreat and flee the cantonment (Captain Baillie-Hamilton was killed in the first volley). After the skirmish, the victorious sepoys killed a few 'traitorous' sepoys that helped the British soldiers retreat and murdered a hundred soldiers of the 1st Company Bengal Artillery (the other British regiment stationed in Meerut). The survivors of the 'Meerut Massacre,' the first 'battle' of the Indian Rebellion, fled the vicinity to Delhi.

Perhaps it was fate that the sepoy who was wounded by the mysterious first shot was Lieutenant Mukta Sen, as his name meant 'liberated, set free' (Lieutenant Sen became a critical leader of the Indian Rebellion and one of the few Indian rebel officers to beat the British on the battlefield). Within mere weeks, the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent were ablaze as thousands of Indians rebelled against the East India Company to break Britain's grip over the region. While the aftermath of the rebellion was anything but pleasant for the Indians, it was the first sign of Indian nationalism and a prediction of greater things to come...