There were many causes for the uprising, but an adventure novel has to cut to the chase and largely ignore the underlying political, social and religious discontents. The story focuses on a British military family so he concentrated on the mutiny of the native soldiers – the infantry sepoys and cavalry sowars. Many Hindu and Muslim potentates came to the fore in the uprising, both in favour of and against British rule, but In Times of Peril only picks out two – the authentic but fictitious Nawab of Bithri and the very real Nana Sahib. They suitably emphasise the Victorian prejudice against wily ‘Johnny Foreigner’.
Some important causes, which had less to do with military matters than with political, were the very recent annexation of fiercely independent Muslim Awadh (Oudh), the sidelining of the Hindu Maratha princes, the belief among Hindus and Muslims alike that the British were about to enforce Christianity on their communities – a great fear that seemed reasonable in the light of ungoverned missionary activity – and, of course, the famous grease problem associated with the cartridges for the new Enfield P53 Rifled Musket.
India created enormous wealth for Britain so any unrest there represented a great threat to the government. That means the British of the time had a natural bias, regardless of the rights on either side of the divide, but his is an adventure yarn, and so there’s no question as to who the good guys and the bad guys are. The sepoy rebels are portrayed as traitors to their rightful rulers – at the time, the East India Company – while the colonial British represent shining examples of justice, industry, civilisation and common decency.
In truth, atrocities were carried out by all parties, and while the British characterised the uprising as a mutiny by the Indian soldiers, Indians since have called it the First War of Independence and Indian nationalists called the rebelling soldiers ‘freedom fighters’. As usual in any conflict, it depends on which side of the fence you sit.
In order to avoid confusion, the story refer to the soldiers in the story as part of the British Army in India. In fact the soldiers – Indian natives, British officers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) – were all a part of the army of the East India Company. This vast trading organisation, had been built up over centuries by British merchants. Over time, their mercantile operations became more military as the Company began annexing swathes of India in the interests of the British Crown – that’s what the merchants said, as they continued lining their own pockets. However, by the time of the Mutiny, the British government had taken effective control of India and licensed the Company to administer the civil and military offices.
The British Army in India comprised a high number of British officers and NCOs compared to British soldiers. The latter and NCOs were the backbone to stiffen the extensive native levies of infantry and cavalry – while the officers commanded native regiments as well as the white units.
In Times of Peril is a work of fiction set against a real background, consequently many characters and situations are invented, although usually based on some contemporary account of a similar occurance or person (see In Disguise), but many named were real people. Warrener’s Horse is a fictitious but authentic irregular cavalry unit. The majority of British military in India served with the infantry, so after the outbreak of hostilities many civilians joined forces with mounted officers to form bands of irregular cavalry, such as the real Captain Hodson and all the other named senior British officers.
Sandynugghur, Nalgwa, Meanwerrie, Nussara are invented towns and cantonments, as is the fortress-palace of the Rajah of Nahdur. However, the towns where all the major events happen are real, and the events described as taking place there all occurred – if somewhat abbreviated in the story. At the end of Chapter 7, Warrener’s Horse head away from Delhi to the northeast to rescue the British prisoners of the Nawab of Bithri. The place is real, and although the incidents described are invented, there were many such instances of isolated British civilians, administrators and army officers being taken and held prisoner throughout Awadh.
Looting by victorious soldiers and officers was permitted by the British if the defenders refused to surrender, and given the low levels of pay in the British Army, the spoils of conquest were an important perk for squaddies and often impoverished junior officers alike. While estimating the worth of sums of money from the 1850s by today’s values is an uncertain business, it’s reasonable to suggest that the London jeweller’s offer of £130,000 for the looted Kaiserbagh treasure would have netted the Warreners a cool £85 million (US$133 m) in today’s values, perhaps even a lot more, taking into account the much lower cost of living (low-paid servants, for instance).
After his capture, the Mogul (Mughal) Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s life was spared and he was taken into exile in Burma, together with his wife and the surviving members of his family. He died in Rangoon in March 1862.
For all its failures before and during the uprising, the East India Company was dissolved in August 1858, and its powers given to the British Crown. India was governed through the India Office until 1947.
The capture of Bahadur Shah Zafar by Captain William Hodson after the fall of Delhi to the British. The emperor and three of his sons, Moghul, Khizir Sultan and Abu Bakr fled to the imagined safety of Humayun’s tomb on the outskirts of the city. The sons were arrested and shot dead in cold blood by Hodson.
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