Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Story from the Census and Beyond or “You’re in the army now” part 5

It was mutiny that made George Welch leave the British Isles, the Indian Mutiny in 1857. My theory that George had spent all of his time in England while in the army had been proved wrong when he was sent to Ireland, but India, that was a whole different world!

Up until 1857 vast areas of India were under the control of the East India Company, a British company whose reason d’être was commerce. To keep control of its trade empire, the East India Company had its own huge army. Things can be complicated if you are searching for records of a man who served as a soldier in India. He could have been in the armies of the East India Company or in the British Army. British men were also accepted into the Indian Army where a lot of them being officers. Being a British officer in the Indian Army in charge of Indian soldiers would have been perilous when the mutiny broke out.

In The Autobiography of a British Soldier, there is a description given by a British officer in charge of a Sepoy regiment who barely escaped with his life. One of the soldiers took a shot at him but missed. Then another soldier aiming at the officer was bayoneted by a Sepoy. The officer took to his heels through a hail of bullets, luckily they only struck his clothing – three times.* Other British in India were not so lucky. It was not only officers and fighting men who were killed but women and children too. 

So many lives lost and the cause? The histories of the mutiny agree the reason the mutiny began was because of the introduction of a new rifle, the Enfield. To load the rifle, the soldier was required to bite the cartridge as well as lubricate it with his saliva. A rumour started that the cartridges were greased with pig and cow fat, thus offending both Muslims and Hindus. 


Lewis-Stempel, John. The Autobiography of the British Soldier: From Agincourt to Basra, in His Own Words. Headline Publishing Group, London, 2007*

Ralby, Dr. Aaron. Atlas of Military History: An Illustrated Global Survey of Warfare from Antiquity to the Present Day. Parragon Books Ltd., Bath, UK, 2013

Spencer, William. Army Records: A Guide for Family Historians. The National Archives, Kew, 2008

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