Women of the Red Year: Two Personal Reminiscences by British Women of the Indian Mutiny, 1857—Reminiscences of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 by Miss Florence Wagentreiber & My Recollections of the Sepoy Revolt by Mrs. Muter
Two outstanding accounts of the Indian Mutiny written by women
This special Leonaur edition contains two accounts of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as it was experienced by women whose lives were violently disrupted. Elizabeth Wagentreiber was the youngest daughter of Colonel James Skinner of the famous cavalry regiment ‘Skinner’s Horse’. She had originally married a Captain Radclyffe Haldane, an officer of Skinner’s Horse who was killed at the Battle of Chillianwallah during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. She subsequently married George Wagentreiber. And in the Spring of 1857 the couple were living in the civilian lines at Delhi when the Indian Mutiny broke out in the Bengal Army and reports arrived that the native cavalry was running amok in the city, slaughtering Europeans. Fearful for their lives the couple escaped with their children and the harrowing account of their time as fugitives makes compelling reading. Mrs Elizabeth McMullin Muter was married to a captain of the 1st Battalion 60th King’s Royal Rifles stationed in Meerut, a few hours travel east of Delhi, when the mutiny among the sepoys of the garrison broke out there on Sunday morning of May 10th, 1857. Elizabeth Muter graphically describes the horrors of those first days of the conflict from the perspective of the wives of officers who were set adrift in times of peril and uncertainty as their husbands left them to fight. This book also contains some campaign recollections by Captain Muter.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
All that could be done was done to acquaint the authorities of the disturbed state of affairs. The night of the nawab’s visit a letter was sent off to Sir T. Metcalfe, begging him not to make light of it for the warning was evidently not without some cause; but Sir T. Metcalfe paid no heed, and at daybreak the next morning the mutinous troopers were crossing the bridge-of-boats, and their first victim was an unfortunate overseer who had gone out to his work across the river and whom they at once cut down and then rode into the city. It was then too late. The storm had burst! We were driven from our homes, and many were cruelly put to death while attempting to escape.
Early on the morning of the 11th a report prevailed outside the city that some troopers of the 3rd Light Cavalry stationed at Meerut had entered through the Calcutta gate of the city and were murdering Christians on every side, and committing all sorts of excesses. The reports varied as to the number of the troopers—by some they were said to be 250 whilst others estimated them at 15. The Delhi Gazette Press, where my father’s work lay, was near St. James’ Church (inside the Cashmere gate) his office hours from 7 to 10 a.m., every alternate day, and after breakfast to 4 pm., on the other days. This was fortunately a late day—had it been otherwise, he would certainly have shared the fate of the other poor Europeans in the city. He had just driven off, when our servants came up in a body, and asked to be allowed to go to their homes, as there was an uproar in the city.
This was unusual, and my mother guessed what it meant. Their sudden desertion, and wish to absent themselves in a mass, alarmed and convinced her that some serious trouble had to be faced. She harangued them, and told them they were to remain at their posts till the Sahib returned. Some of the old ones consented to stay, and the bearer was despatched forthwith after the office gharry to bring him back at all costs. The message given was to say “The Mem Sahib was very ill, and desired his immediate return.” The bearer caught the carriage up at the Cashmere gate, which was closed. My father had alighted from the gharry and was pacing in front of the gate in a towering passion, inquiring of the Residency Sowars on guard, by whose authority the gate was closed, and demanding them to open it without further delay.
The bearer delivered the message, urging his immediate return as “The Mem Sahib was quite unconscious and very ill.” This was the saving of his life, for once the gate had closed upon him, he would never have returned. At the house all was alarm and confusion. My mother had worked herself into a frenzy during his absence, having learnt much of the truth from the servants, and was greatly relieved to see him safe and sound. Even then it was hard to realise the extent of the danger, the seriousness of the outbreak, and all it meant to us.
My father sent a note across to a neighbour (Doctor Balfour) asking for some particulars of the disturbance and advising him to bring his family over to our house which, having a tiled roof, was less likely to prove combustible. Doctor Balfour replied that there was no cause for alarm and that it would be advisable not to show signs of anxiety. Meanwhile the servants were busy bringing news from the city. The troopers were said to be like fiends, shooting down Europeans without mercy, and not even sparing the women and children—the commissioner (Mr. Simon Fraser) being one of the victims.
My father got his firearms together, loaded them all, and removed them into a good-sized room, having determined to retreat to this, and resist any attempt that might be made on our property. Firing could now be heard in the city, and a lurid glare over the tree tops in the direction of Duryaganj corroborated the statement that the residences of Europeans were being plundered and burnt after the inmates had been ruthlessly put to death. It was now ascertained that the troopers from Meerut were the prime movers, and were calling on the city people to join them in their brutal work of destruction. With the knowledge that revenge was their principal object, and the certainty that they were acting more like demons than men, matters assumed a serious aspect and my parents agreed to seek safety in flight.
Meanwhile the deadly work was going on in the city. It was said that the 54th Native Infantry had proceeded from cantonments to the city to quell the disturbance accompanied by two guns from Captain De Tissier’s Battery. These had marched through the Cashmere gate and main guard in order, but just opposite the church, the sepoys of the 54th rushed to one side suddenly leaving their officers in the middle of the road; at the same time a small party of the troopers galloped forward and pulled up short, fired at the ill-fated officers and shot them down. The only one who had firearms was Captain Ripley, and he managed to kill (or wound) two of his assailants before he himself fell mortally wounded. The remainder, Captains Smith and Burroughs and Lieutenant Edwards were then coolly pistoled, their men calmly looking on at the butchery, and when ordered to fire, making a display of doing so over the heads of the murderous troopers.
As soon as the troopers had shot down all the officers, they dismounted, and going up to the sepoys shook hands with them congratulating them on their forbearance. The other regiments in garrison were then sent down with two guns, but it became evident that their presence at the scene of action only increased the dangerous nature of the outbreak, as things were in a state of open mutiny.