A question, often asked – and rarely answered satisfactorily, is why did Indian armies fail in the 1857 War against the British.
The British army was made of Indian soldiers. The gunpowder that the British army used was made and bought in India.
The British did have manufacturing edge. The Industrial Revolution was in full cry in Britain. The Great Expo at Crystal Palace had showcased the British industrial and economic might to the world.
Soon after the London Expo of 1851, the British had to face a bloody war in India where hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers, waged war, led by a determined alliance of leaders.
But India had the power of a just cause – which aligned the local population with the Indian armies.
A glimpse to the explanation can be found in this photograph above. Note all the skulls, bones and skeletons in the foreground.
British armies, filled by mercenaries, received a bounty on joining the army, a bounty for each victory, for every leader killed – for every massacre. These bands of mercenaries ‘pacified’ entire villages by a general massacre. All men were killed.
This photograph was taken by Felice Beato, a Corfu-born photographer, in March 1858, working possibly for the British War Office. At Lucknow he took some 60 photographs.
The assault Secundra Bagh , by troops under Sir Colin Campbell on 16 November 1857. Pinned down for six weeks, the British troops massacred the Indian soldiers.
In the Sikandra Bagh Battle, 3 miles from the British Residency at Lucknow, some 2000 Indian soldiers were killed. The British dead were buried in trench nearby.
The Indian dead were left – unburied and in the open. These dead and unburied or un-cremated bodies are what you see in the photograph.
The British Imperial War Museum claims that during the Sikandra Bagh Battle, 24 Victoria Cross medals were won by British soldiers – the highest ever in a single day of fighting.
Though there are some stray dissenting voices on this photograph.
As one contemporary commentator described it: “A few of their [rebel] bones and skulls are to be seen in front of the picture, but when I saw them every one was being regularly buried, so I presume the dogs dug them up.” A British officer, Sir George Campbell, noted in his memoirs Beato’s presence in Lucknow and stated that he probably had the bones uncovered to be photographed. However, William Howard Russell of The Times recorded seeing many skeletons still lying around in April 1858.