11 June 1857
On 11 June 1857, Colonel James Neill, who had been ordered to crush the slightest sign of support for the Indian mutiny, seized the city of Allahabad. In the days which followed he implemented a reign of terror, unprecedented in Indian history. Thousands were slaughtered, including many innocent women and children. One British officer, who seemed concerned with the tiresome burden the work of killing placed on his soldiers, recalled
‘Every native that appeared in sight was shot down without question and in the morning Colonel James Neil sent out parties of his regiment, although the poor fellows could hardly walk from fatigue and exhaustion, and burned all the villages near where the ruins of our bungalows stood, and hung every native they could catch on the trees that lined the road. Another party of soldiers penetrated into the native city and set fire to it, whilst volley after volley of grape and canister was poured into the fugitives as they fled from their burning houses. In years to come men will tell of the frightful vengeance taken by the white men for the rebellion of 1857.’1
Other British witnesses also detailed some of the ruthless measures taken in their private correspondence. Lieutenant Pearson, of the 84th Regiment, explained to his mother, that ‘every day ten or a dozen niggers are hanged,’ with their corpses dangling ‘by twos and threes from branch and signpost all over the town… For three months did eight dead-carts daily go their rounds from sunrise to sunset, to take down corpses which hung at the cross-roads, and the market-places, poisoning the air of the city, and to throw their loathsome burdens into the Ganges.’2 Another described how the surrounding villages were burned, noting that ‘the aged, women and children are sacrificed, as well as those guilty of rebellion.’ He conceded that ‘the sternest measures are doubtless necessary, but added that, ‘here there seems to be no discrimination,’ and predicted that as a consequence of the fires and the terror, a famine was ‘almost certain.’3 Today, however, few in Britain know anything about the massacre, though historians have estimated that Neill’s troops ‘executed’ some six thousand people in Allahabad and its immediate neighbourhood, more than all the British citizens who were either murdered or killed in conflict during the entire two years of the Mutiny.4
- ‘Private letter from Allahabad,’ The Morning Post, 24 August 1857 p. 3.
- Cited in Christopher Hibbert, The Great Mutiny, India 1857, Penguin, London, 1980.
- Saul David, The Indian Mutiny, Viking, London, 2002, p. 237.
- Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London p. 132.
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