On this day May 10, 1857
The Sepoy Rebellion broke out in colonial India, threatening the rule of the British East India Company.
The Rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of British East India Company‘s army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions.
Largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region.
The rebellion posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region, and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion is also known as India’s First War of Independence.
The rebels quickly captured large swathes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, including Delhi, where they installed the Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as Emperor of Hindustan. The Company response came rapidly as well: by September 1857, with help from fresh reinforcements, Delhi had been retaken. Nevertheless, it then took the better part of 1858 for the rebellion to be completely suppressed in Oudh.
Other regions of Company controlled India—Bengal province, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency—remained largely calm. In Punjab, only recently annexed by the East India Company, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing both soldiers and support. The large princely states, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana, by not joining the rebellion, served, in the Governor-General Lord Canning‘s words, as “breakwaters in a storm” for the Company.
In some regions, especially in Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence; however, although the rebel leaders, especially the Rani of Jhansi, became folk heroes in the burgeoning nationalist movement in India half a century later, they themselves “generated no coherent ideology or programme on which to build a new order.”
Still, the rebellion proved to be an important watershed in Indian history; it led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858, and forced the British to reorganize the army, the financial system, and the administration in India. India was thereafter directly governed by the British government —originally via the India Office and a cabinet level Secretary of State for India—in the new British Raj, a system of governance that underwent several reforms prior to Indian independence in 1947.