The Barrackpore Mutiny of 1824 was an uprising of native Indian sepoys against the British officers in Barrackpore (Bengal). The rebellion took place in November 1824, when the British East India Company was fighting the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) under the leadership of Lord Amherst, the then Governor-General of Bengal. The ‘1824 Barrackpore Mutiny’ was generally regarded as a dress rehearsal of the ‘Indian Mutiny of 1857‘ because of its equivalent combination of Indian grievances against the British, caste feeling, and the British ineptitude of its handling.
In February 1824, the British officially declared war on Burma during Governor-General Lord Amherst. The British plan for operations against Burma consisted of a sea-borne expedition to Rangoon. From Rangoon, they would be transported up to the Irrawaddy to attack the Burmese capital of Ava. In April 1824, the British expeditionary forces by sea, containing European and Indian troops, left ‘Port Cornwallis‘ to travel to Rangoon. The British captured the Rangoon without difficulty in May 1824.
Meanwhile, in May 1824, the Burmese forces, under the command of Maha Bandula, advanced toward Chittagong and defeated a small British garrison at Ramu (near Chittagong). The Burmese killed most of the British officers, captured the sepoys and sent them as prisoners to the Burmese capital.
This Burmese annexation and massacre of a small British unit at Ramu made the matter more alarming. Rumours quickly spread about the march of Burmese general Maha Bandula towards Calcutta, sending the East India Company in Bengal into a panic. Alarmed by these rumours, the British government decided on an overland advance into Burma.
In October 1824, during the First Anglo-Burmese War, the colonial government ordered the 26th, 47th, and 62nd Regiments of the Bengal Native Infantry to march 800 km from Barrackpore to Chittagong in preparation for entering the Burmese territory. But, the regiments had just marched around 1600 km from Mathura to Barrackpore and were reluctant to undertake another long march (this time against an unknown enemy). Barrackpore was a military cantonment in Bengal near Calcutta under the command of Major General Dalzell.
These three regiments of Bengal native infantry comprised mainly of high caste Hindus. In those days, travelling by sea was a social taboo for higher caste Hindus, who referred to it as Kala Pani. Because of this, Indian sepoys had reservations about crossing the sea due to the Kala Pani taboo.
Apart from fear and fatigue, another major cause for the reluctance of Indian sepoys to march to Chittagong was the absence of carriage cattle and poor supply arrangements. Each higher caste soldier used his own brass cooking utensils, wrapped in a bundle, which included his bedding. Because of their weight, the soldiers could not be able to carry these bundles along with their knapsacks, muskets, and ammunition.
At that time, the sepoys generally used bullocks to pull the carts carrying the bundles. But, for the march to Chittagong, the soldiers had no bullocks available because almost all of them had already bought for the sea-borne expedition to Rangoon. The Indian sepoys requested the government to provide a sufficient number of bullocks or pay them ‘double batta‘ (the allowance paid when in hostile territory) to cover the cost of arranging them. The sepoys refused to march without redressal of their grievances.
The colonial government disregarded these requests and advised the sepoys to carry whatever they could in their knapsacks and leave the rest behind. The threats from a Muslim Indian subedar major further escalated the situation, that if they did not stop complaining about the bullocks, they would send them by sea. The lack of transport for personal effects and cultural concerns about being transported by sea cause apprehensions among Indian sepoys.
The British insensitivity towards Indian cultural sentiments, along with negligence and poor supply arrangement, caused resentment among the sepoys of these regiments of Bengal Native Infantry, which led to the Barrackpore rebellion in 1824.
On 1 November 1824, the 47th Regiment was ordered to commence the march towards Chittagong. The 26th and 62nd regiments had to march within a week of the 47th regiment’s departure. During the parade held on 1 November, the soldiers of the 47th Native Infantry appeared without their knapsacks and refused to bring them even when ordered. The troops again demanded their carriage bullocks or the payments of double batta and refused to march towards Chittagong without redress of their grievances.
General Dalzell, the commanding officer, failed to subdue the discontent and proceeded to Calcutta to consult General Sir Edward Paget, the Commander-in-Chief of the Bengal Army. The dissent spread to the elements of the 26th and 62nd regiments.
The sepoys under the leadership of Binda Tiwari maintained order during the day and stayed on the parade ground all night. On hearing the escalation, Commander in Chief Edward Paget immediately ordered two British battalions, a company of artillery, troops of Governor-General’s bodyguard and one native regiment to proceed to Barrackpore. Padget himself reached Barrackpore from Calcutta that night.
The sepoys presented their petition to Edward Paget, explaining that their rebellion was due to religious scruples and requested to be dismissed from service if their demands were not redressal. Paget replied that there was no intention of sending the troops by sea without their consent but refused to listen further to other grievances until the sepoys laid down their arms. This promise of reconsideration was not enough for the sepoys to give up their position.
On 2 November 1824, the reinforcements and the loyal members of the 26th and 62nd regiments moved into position and secretly surrounded the sepoy camp-ground. The British sent a final message to the mutineers, demanding that the sepoys lay down arms before any discussion on grievances, but the sepoy refused.
Paget ordered two cannons to fire on the rebels, followed by an attack from the rear by the secretly placed horse artillery. Surprised by this sudden attack, the sepoys tried to flee, but the rest of the British regiments attacked them from all directions. Some of the troops jumped into the Hoogly river to escape and drowned. During the attack, the British killed around 180 mutineers. Many sepoys were wounded and taken prisoner.
The British captured most of the remaining mutineers. On 4 November 1824, the 47th regiment was disbanded, and its Indian officers disgraced, discharged and declared unworthy of the confidence of the Government. All the British officers of the 47th regiment transferred to a new 69th regiment. On 9 November, Binda was arrested and suffered the especially harsh punishment of being hung in chains the next day.
After the suppression of mutiny, many Indian sepoys deserted British service. The British government set up a Court of Inquiry to investigate the incident. But, the government took no disciplinary measures against Paget or any other officer of British forces. Governor-General Lord Amherst came close to being recalled for mishandling the situation but ultimately retained his position.
The 1824 Barrackpore Mutiny created an atmosphere of distrust across the native Indian regiments and irrevocably harmed the relations between the native Indian sepoys and British officers.