The Revolt of 1857

The Revolt of 1857- 1859 (Indian Rebellion) occurred in various regions of the country, the revolt was against the British Rule of the East India Company, which functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown.

Before 1857 there were also many people uprising which shows the dissatisfaction of people against colonial rule. The Revolt of 1857 shows the first organized resistance against Colonial rule.

The revolt of 1857 was a mass-level revolt all over India, and according to Indian people and some great historians, the revolt was the first revolt of India for freedom against the British.

Major Causes of the Revolt of 1857

Economic Causes
  • The peasant and zamindar having anger due to the new heavy taxation on land, the revenue system imposed on them by the British Rule.
  • The peasants were not able to pay the hike in revenue and heavy taxes, so they started to make money from money lenders.
    • many people lost their land and were without a source of Income.
  • Now those money lenders emerged as the new landlords.
  • Destruction of Indian handicrafts and promotion of British Goods.
  • British goods were imported to India at a very low tariff.
  • Heavy taxes on Indian goods were imposed.
Political Causes

The most prominent cause of the revolt was the expansion policies of British rule. These policies created political dissatisfaction and instability in India.

  • Policies such as ‘Effective control, Subsidiary Alliance, and Doctrine of Laps, were the British policies for expansion.
  • The adopted son of Rani Lakshmi Bai was not accepted as a prince of Jhansi, as the right of succession was denied to Hindu princes.
  •  The collapse of Rulers.
    • The Doctrine of Laps Introduced by Lord Dalhousie.
    • The policy – Doctrine of Laps includes that if the Hindu ruler is without his own son, the adopted son is not illegible for thrown.
Administrative causes

In the British administration, the uncontrolled Corruption in law and order became the major cause of dissatisfaction.

  • The people of India treated them as aliens and there of lack of sovereignty.
  • The civilian rebellion was more multifarious. The rebels consisted of three groups: the feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and peasants.
The Social and Religious Causes

During British rule, reforms like the abolition of Sati, widow remarriage,  and prohibition of female infanticide were huge changes in the social structure.

  • These changes were taken as social and religious interference by others.
  • The laws such as the Religious Disabilities Act of 1856, were totally a hammer on Hindu custom at that time.
  • The Westernized education system was also not accepted by orthodox Hindus as well as Muslims also.
Influence of Outside Events

After the defeats of the British in the first Afgan war  (1838-42), the Punjab wars (1845-49), and the Crimean Wars (1854-56), The Indians felt that the British could be defeated very easily.

Causes Among Military

The Revolt of 1857 was started as a sepoy mutiny, because of dissatisfaction of the Indian sepoy.

  • The Indian sepoy was treated as inferior to the British sepoy.
  • For the same rank, Indians were less paid compared to British sepoys.
  • The Indian sepoy had restrictions on wearing caste and sectarian marks.
  • The General Service Enlistment Act of 1856 was passed by Lord Canning.
    • According to Act, The Indians had to serve anywhere.
  • The Annexation of Awadh inflamed the sepoys, as their homes of many.

The Immediate Cause of Revolt

The immediate reason was the greased wrapping of the cartridge and the mixing of bone dust in flour. It was rumored that the new rifle was made of cow beef or pig fat. So the sepoy of both Hindu and Muslim religions refused to use the rifle.

  • The beginning of the revolt from Meerut was on 10 May 1857. Soon spread to various regions of India.
  • In March 1857 Barrackpore, Mangal Pandey the sepoy of 34th Native Infantry refused to use the newly introduced Enfiled rifle. He attacked his senior officers. Mangal Pandey was executed (hanged to death) on 8th April.
  • On the 24th of April 90 sepoy of 3rd Native cavalry refused to use that greased cartridges. Out of them, 85 sepoys were dismissed and sentenced to 10-year’s imprisonment.

The Centres, significant events, and Leaders of the Revolt of 1857

Delhi– In Delhi, the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah was the symbolic and nominal leader of the Revolt. The real command of the revolt was in the hands of General Bakht Khan. Bahadur Shah was the weakest leader of the 1857 revolt.

Kanpur– Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II was the leader at Kanpur. In Kanpur, he defeated the English and proclaimed himself Peshwa.

  • Nana Saheb acknowledged Bahadur Shah as the emperor of India and himself as governor.

Lucknow– Begum Hazrat Mahal was the prominent leader of the revolt of Lucknow.

  • Henry Lawrence was killed during the siege.
  • Sir Colin Campbell, the new commander in chief with the help of Gorkha regiments and get Europeans out of Danger.
  • In March 1858, the British recovered Lucknow.

Jhansi The most outstanding, 22yrs old, Rani Lakshmi Bai was the leader of Jhansi.

  • The Governor-general, Lord Dalhousie refused to accept her adopted son as the successor of the throne.
  • Under the Doctrine of Laps, Jhansi was taken under British Rule after the Death of Raja Gangadhar Rao, the husband of Rani Lakshmi Bai.
  • Tantia Tope, the associate of Nana Saheb joined her.
  • She fought courageously but was defeated by the English.
    • Sir Hugh Rose has given tribute to her as- Here lay the woman who was the only man among the rebels.

BareillyKahan Bahadur Khan was the leader, he made an army of 40,000 soldiers.

Bihar Led by Babu Kunwar Singh, was a zamindar who belongs to Jagdishpur.

  • Kunwar Singh was in the age of seventies when he joined the sepoys from Arrah.

Faizabad– The revolt led by Maulvi Ahmadullah in Faizabad. He was a native of Madras.

Baghpat Shah Mal was a prominent leader.

Suppression of the Revolt and officials who suppressed

The revolt was finally suppressed, and Delhi was captured by the British on September 20, 1857.

  • The British official in Delhi was John Nicholson. Bahadurshah was sent to Rangoon and died in 1862. Royal princes were killed by Lieutenant Hudson.
  • Sir Colin Campbell occupied Kanpur on 6 December 1857.
  • Nana Saheb was defeated at Kanpur and Escaped to Nepal in 1859.
  • Tantia Tope was Captured in April 1859 and hanged to death.
  • After the death of Lakshmi Bai on 18 June 1858, in Gwalior, The Jhnasi was recaptured by Sir Hugh Rose. The rebel of Gwalior was also suppressed by him.
  • At Bareilly, the leader Khan Bahadur Khan died, and the rebel was suppressed by Sir Colin Campbell.
  • In Bihar, Babu Kunwar sigh died on 26 April 1858, here the British officer was William Taylor.

The Main Reasons for Failure of Revolt

  • Limited Participation
    • All of India has not participated in this Revolt.
    • Princely states as such Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kasmir have not participated in the revolt.
  • Not participation in all classes
    • On the social aspect, certain classes and groups have not joined the rebellion. they helped the Britishers during the revolt.
    • The middle class and educated people had hopes that the British are helping in modernization.
  • Poors Arms and Limited Resources
    • The rebels had poor resources of money and soldiers.
    • poor equipment, like swords, and few guns, on the other hand, European Soldiers used the latest weapons like the Enfield rifle.
  • Leadership was Uncoordinated and poorly organized.
    • Lack of effective leadership. Rani Lakshmi Bai, Tantia Tope, Nana Saheb, and Kunwah Sigh were good leaders but they were not a match to British officials’ leadership and military skills.
  • Lack of coherent Ideology

Results of the Revolt

  • The company rule abolished
  • The rule took over by the British Crown, The administration was taken over by Queen Victoria. There were huge changes in administration-
    • The Governor-General was replaced by Viceroy.
    • The Doctrine of Lapse was abolished.
    • Adoption of a son as a successor is accepted.
    • According to the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, The Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 was passed.
  • Army reorganized.
    • The number of Indian Soldiers increased.
    • Upper roles were given to the British army.
    • White Mutiny– The Mutiny of the British Army, as the extra alliance (batta) was stopped.


The revolt can not be said of the first war of Independence as there was not a common goal, but it showed the initiation of nationalism. The leaders of many regions united for common causes of a different society, which was the seed of nationalism in India.

*** Thoughts and comments about the nature of the revolt

  • R.C. Majumdar and S.N. Sen- Not an Organized ‘National’ Revolt”
  • R.C. Majumdar- “Neither First nor National War of Independence.”
  • V.D. Savarkar- War of Independence.
  • Eric Stokes- “Elitist in Character”
  • Lawrence and Seeley- “Mere Sepoy Mutiny”

References: NCERT textbook, Spectrum’s Modern History (Vipin Chandra), etc.

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