3 April 1858
On 3 April 1858, Redcoats, under the command of General Hugh Rose, stormed the Indian city of Jhansi, where Lakshmibai, the legendary rani (queen), was leading a rebellion against British rule. Rose later proudly acknowledged that he had avenged an earlier massacre of British officers and their families a thousand times over, a shameless admission that he had personally ordered the merciless butchery of all the adult male inhabitants.1 As British troops advanced through the streets, many of the desperate survivors threw themselves and their wives and children down wells, but they were dragged out and the men bayoneted.2
A Brahmin priest, Vishnubhat Godse, recalled in horrific detail four days in which the city was subjected to arson, pillage, looting and indiscriminate murder. It was subsequently estimated that about 5,000 were slaughtered. By the last day, ‘every square blazed with burning bodies and the city looked like one vast burning ground … It became difficult to breathe as the air stank with the odour of burning human flesh and the stench of rotting animals in the streets.’3 Godse escaped by hiding inside a hollowed out wall of a house. Others were not so lucky. He recalled that British soldiers ‘broke into houses and hunted out people hidden in barns, rafters and obscure, dark corners’ and that ‘at the sight of white soldiers some people tried to hide in haystacks (in their courtyards) but the pitiless demons did not leave them alone there. They set the haystacks on fire and hundreds were burnt alive.’4
The priest’s account can be partly corroborated by Dr. Thomas Lowe of the Bombay Engineers, who recalled that ‘no quarter was awarded them as a word of warning to others. I exaggerate not when I say I saw the streets stained with blood… It was an awful sight to see ( women and children ) follow out of their houses some rebel husband, brother or son who was at once shot.’5 Throughout the massacre, British and British led Indian troops continued to help themselves to anything of value. Godse describes how they ‘took away even hinges and bolts on doors and windows’ as well as ‘clothing of every description’ and ‘all variety of cereals – rice, wheat, maize, rye, lentils etc. They had brought with them a team of bullocks and huge sacks which they filled with the contents of bins and jars in which the people had stored their food.’6
- Mahasweta Devi, The Queen of Jhansi, Calcutta, Seagull, 2000, p191 and Mudhsree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II, Basic Books, pp xxii-xxiii
- Thomas Lowe, Central India During the Rebellion of 1857 and 1858, Longman, London, 1860 p. 259.
- Mrindal Pande (translator), Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar, 1857: The Real Story of the Great Uprising, Harper Perennial, New York and New Delhi, 2011.
- Thomas Lowe, Central India During the Rebellion of 1857 and 1858, Longman, London, 1860 p. 262.
- D. V. Tahmankar, The Ranee of Jhansi, MacGibbon and Kee, London, accessed online at archive.org url https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.462220/2015.462220.The-Ranee_djvu.txt
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