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The Siege of Lucknow began in May 25, 1857, when British-employed Indian soldiers, known as Sepoys, mutinied in the city of Lucknow – in the north of India.

The group of around 5,000 Sepoys, which later grew to around 30,000, besieged the residency – the home of the British Resident General in the area.

At the time, the role was held by experienced administrator, Brigadier-General Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, who had only been appointed to the role six weeks earlier.

He faced mounting discontent in the region, which had been annex by the British East India Company a year earlier.

At the time, Sepoys, who formed part of the company’s vast private army, were becoming increasingly concerned their own religious customs and traditions were being pushed aside for more Christian values and activities.

The British had earlier replaced Indian aristocracy with British officials, while Christian missionaries were challenging the religious beliefs of the Hindus.  

A year before the rebellion, in March 1857, a sepoy called Mangal Pandey attacked British officers at the military garrison in Barrackpore.

He was arrested and then executed by the British in early April. 

But the flash-point came over the introduction of the company’s new Enfield Rifle.  

The British Residency in Lucknow, India, 1858. The Residency was the centre of the first Siege of Lucknow and the scene of the death of British military commander Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence

To use the gun, soldiers had to bite off the end of a cartridge before loading a shot into the rifle.

But the cartridge was rumoured to be lubricated with the fat of both cow, which was sacred to Hindus, and pork, forbidden by Muslims.

As a result, neither group could put the fat of the animals into their mouths without going against their religions. There is no evidence the cartridges were actually lubricated with animal fat. 

Two weeks before the Siege of Lucknow began, a mutiny broke out in a city to the north-west, called Meerut, and the soldiers marched on Deli.

There the local Sepoy garrison joined the Meerut men, and by nightfall the Mughal emperor Bahādur Shah II had been nominally restored to power. 

The mutiny quickly spread to Agra and Kanpur, with mutineers commonly shooting their British officers before carrying out massacres in Delhi and Cawnpore – murdering women and children. 

The battle that broke out in the Bengal Army was known as the Indian Mutiny to the British, but the First War of Independence to Indians and continued for two years until the fall of Gwaliar on June 2, 1858.

Back in Lucknow Lawrence, sensing the danger, called women, children and pensioners into the residency – while others came of their own will – and began to prepare for a siege.  

On May 30 – the Muslim festival of Eid most of the Oudh and Bengal troops at Lucknow broke into open rebellion. Lawrence, initially with an army of around 1,700 soldiers, including the 32nd Foot Regiment, managed to drive the rebels out of the city.

In an attempt to prevent the rebels reforming, Lawrence led an expedition to attack the group, but it was unsuccessful and the British were themselves driven back to the Residency. 

By July 2, Sir Henry Lawrence had been mortally wounded. A shell had burst in his room at the Residency and he had a wound in his hip. He died two days later.

Those inside survived on diminishing rations and diseases such as smallpox and scurvy were rife.

Damage caused by a mine to the Chattar Munzil, also spelled Chutter Munzil, during the siege of Lucknow

Damage caused by a mine to the Chattar Munzil, also spelled Chutter Munzil, during the siege of Lucknow

The first relief attempt came on September 25 when the 78th Highlanders, under the command of Major General Sir Henry Havelock, fought across rebel-held territory. 

By the time the army reached the Residency too many men had died and it was too risky to rescue those stuck inside. Instead, the men joined the garrison and improved defences.

On November 16, a much larger force led by Lieutenant General Sir Colin Campbell stormed a walled enclosure that blocked the way to the Residency.

They reached the Residency on November 19 and by November 27 those inside had been evacuated.  

Following the mutiny The East India Company was abolished in favour of the direct rule of India by the British government. 

Another significant result was the beginning of the policy of consultation with Indians.

The Legislative Council of 1853 had contained only Europeans and behaved as if it were a fully-fledged parliament. 

Insensitive British-imposed social measures that affected Hindu society came to an abrupt end. 

Losses: British, 2,500 casualties of 8,000 troops; Indian, unknown number of casualties of some 30,000 rebels. 


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