BRITISH REIGN OF TERROR AT BENARES
[ 4 June 1857 ]
On 4 June 1857, Colonel James Neill, after crushing the mutinous Indian soldiers of the 37th Native Infantry, imposed a reign of terror in the city of Benares. He armed civilians so that they could form ‘volunteer hanging parties,’ and so pacify the population with summary and indiscriminate executions. His victims included young boys who had merely paraded in rebel colours. James Kennedy of the London Missionary Society, who was present when the British troops entered Benares, recalled how
‘the terrible work of retribution commenced. Martial law was proclaimed and many poor miserable creatures, charged with plundering, were hanged. Some of the Sepoys caught were blown from guns. I will not harrow my readers with details. I shunned as much as I could these bloody scenes, but on several occasions I came suddenly on them. To the present day I shudder to think of what I saw.’1
The British press was exuberant in its praise. Typical was a report in the Englishman on 16 June, which exclaimed: ‘Thank God there is one man of nerve here not afraid to hang a few rascals every morning.’2 In contrast, when news of the British atrocities at Benares was received by Indian soldiers at Allahabad , Fatehpur, Faizabad and Jaunpur, it immediately provoked fury and a determination to join the mutiny against British rule, whatever the cost to themselves.
- J. Kennedy, Life and Work in Benares and Kumaon, Cassell and Company, New York, 1889, pp. 192-193.
- Quoted in ‘Executions at Benares,’ in the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 4 August 1857, p. 2.
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