"But they chose to kill the sahib’s wives and children. Then came the sahibs from over the sea and called them to strict account."

This anglo-centric summary of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 is given by a native officer who had fought on the British side during the uprising. For his loyalty, the man would have received an Indian Mutiny Medal, pictured. 

The Sepoy Mutiny

The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny is also called India's First War of Independence, as it was the first concerted, large-scale attempt to overthrow British rule in India.

Various factors have been proposed as having led to the mutiny, including financial grievances within the East India Company army and rumours of British evangelicals conducting mass conversions of Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. It is widely agreed, however, that the immediate cause lay in the controversy over the ammunition for the newly introduced Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the rifle, sepoys had to bite open cartridges greased with lard or tallow.  This was rumoured to be pork or beef fat, a gross violation of Muslim and Hindu religious strictures. 

The revolt began on 10 May, 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other uprisings and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with major hostilities taking place in present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh and the Delhi region. The new ruler was proposed to be Mughal king Bahadur Shah II.

The British response to the uprising was met with widespread approval at home, but is viewed today as unjustifiably brutal. By 1858, the British “Army of Retribution” – with its large-scale massacres and take-no-prisoners policy – had brought a bloody end to the mutiny. Shortly after, the East India Company was formally dissolved and its ruling powers over India transferred to the British Crown.