By the middle of the century, weekly newspapers had entered this arena of political power brokering. With the rescinding of the Stamp Tax there was an opening for these smaller papers to compete with The Times by offering a product that cost less and was designed to appeal to a "lower class", such as the tradesmen, than was The Times. The Times maintained its supremacy and its influence, but it now had competition and this competition wrote for a different sector of the reading public. As a result, what was published often had a very different tone than what was written in The Times. The concern of the present paper will be to examine what was reported during the period of July 4th to August 1st with regard to the Indian Mutiny, and how this reflected the actions and statements of the leading political figures and the sentiments of the public at large. The newspapers that will be used for this investigation will be Punch, The Spectator, The Saturday Review and to a lesser extent, The Times.
Before proceeding with an examination of the above publications, it is imperative that the positions of Disreali and Palmerston, the two key political players, be clearly stated. Moreover, it is important that the position of the East India Company also be understood. Clearly, it was the interaction of these two men and this company that precipitated much of the action and rhetoric that resulted from the outbreak of the Mutiny.
Disraeli was a consummate factionalist in the House of Commons and was notorious for seizing any opportunity to rouse the sentiments of special interest groups in his attempts to increase the power of his own position. During this period he may be viewed as the leader of the opposition, though the term is questionable since the party system had not come to full fruition. His actual knowledge of India was extremely limited but he did know that he did not like the East India Company or their policies. This dislike seems to have originated in the fact that the directors of the Company used the positions that they controled in India to maintain and increase their power and influence within England itself. However, Disraeli also had complaints about the way that the government had conducted itself in India. In particular he denounced Dalhousie's doctrine of lapse. Moreover, he opposed any attempt to westernize the Indian people and was vehemently anti missionary. This viewpoint was in complete agreement with the Company but Disraeli's reasons for taking this position were quite different from those of the Company. All of this should not be taken to mean that Disraeli sympathized with, or in any way admired the Indian people. He did not. He saw the people of India as inferior and believed that they were entirely ruled by their imagination. For this reason he felt that the most effective way to control this population was by placing it directly under the control of the British Crown. This, he believed, would have more of an effect on the "Indian imagination" than the chartered company could ever have. Therefore, under the Crown, Disraeli believed that the Indians would be easier to control. Concurrent with this notion, Disraeli believed that the Mutiny was a revolt against the policies employed by the company in the name of Britain, not a protest against the violation of religious taboos. In the House of Commons, Disraeli clearly questioned whether or not Britain was involved in a national revolt in India. Certainly he believed that, "The rise and fall of empires are not the affairs of greased cartridges" As the rebellion progressed, Disraelis refused to believe the horror stories about English women being dishonoured and children being hacked to bits in front of their mothers. He was, in fact, even reluctant to believe the reports of the Kanpur massacre. In line with this belief, he also opposed indiscriminate reprisals against the Indians when the tide of war had turned in Britain's favour.
Palmerston was a veteran Parliamentarian and, in many ways, the antithesis of Disraeli. Having led the Government through a series of crises, Palmerston was seen by the people of Britain as invincible in the 1850s. There was a strong belief that only Palmerston could defend British prestige and honour. It was this reputation that had, in large part, facilitated Palmerston's 1857 election victory. Initially, he did not take the outbreak seriously since he could not conceive of British troops being defeated by what he thought of as native rabble. This became particularly apparent when he objected to Canning unilaterally assuming authority and diverting troops that were bound for China. His confidence that this was not a serious problem, that the situation had been exaggerated, that it would very quickly be brought under control, and that Britain had enough strength to do virtually anything it needed to do, is further exemplified by his refusal of offers of assistance from other countries such as Belgium. However, once the situation made itself clear and it was obvious that this was a real threat to the British position in India, Palmerston was quick to commit so many troops to the conflict that there was a fear for some time that there were not enough troops left at home to defend England itself from attack from the Continent, should the need arise.
Unlike Disraeli, Palmerston favoured westernization of the Indian people and was supportive, though in a limited way, of the work of missionaries in India. Also in opposition to Disraeli's way of thinking, Palmerston was, at least publicly, in favour of mass retribution since he did believe that the Indians had committed atrocities against English women and children. The one point that the two men agreed on by the end of the war, was that India should be ruled directly by the Crown and not through a chartered company.
The East India Company's position was quite different from that of the two politicians. The board of directors clung tenaciously to the power that they held through their ability to dole out patronage appointments to the younger sons of relatives, friends and the lesser gentry. This power helped them to maintain their connections in places of power both politically and in the world of business. Moreover, it was their opinion that the most suitable way to rule India was through the use of the commercial networks that they were involved in and through the use of the body of "experts" that they had in India. This was firmly in line with the theories and writings of John Stuart Mill which oppose any more government control of commercial operations than is absolutely necessary. For the directors of the Company, India was a commercial enterprise and should, for the sake of efficient management, remain so.
The Mutiny began on Saturday, May 9th, 1857. Communications to Britain took approximately six weeks and this time and therefore initial reports of the disturbance did not reach London until the third week of June. Initially, very little attention was paid to the incoming reports as it was assumed that the mutiny was of a very limited nature and the situation would soon be under control. Even by the beginning of July, there seemed to be very little concern. On July 4th The Times carried a story which railed against the French press for suggesting that the Sepoy were in revolt against Britain rather than against presumed attacks on their religious sensitivities. Showing true British bluster The Times attacked the French by stating that they had been thrown out of many countries while the British had added territory after territory to their empire. To further refute the French accusations The Times stated that since the people had not joined in the revolt, they must approve of British rule and that this was strictly an isolated military mutiny. These notions about the nature of the insurrection exactly reflected the attitude of Palmerston in the early days of the mutiny.
With the same tone of optimism The Saturday Review stated that;
Further, when considering the military leaders involved, it was stated that;
Finally, it was speculated that even as the paper was being written; "...the Sepoy mutiny had been suppressed", but there was still need for vigilance and more troops in case it should flair up again.
Obviously, both The Times and The Saturday Review were reflecting the general view that under Palmerston, the British and their military were invincible. It was totally inconceivable to these publications that any local "native" force could possibly pose a serious threat to British power. Moreover, it was utterly unimaginable that any group of people who had had the opportunity to be governed by the British would not want this good government to continue. Such was the arrogance of the day, that this was the attitude that many had adopted.
The Spectator, while still writing with an air of total assurance that the British will be victorious, questions the inaction of the government in not sending out more troops than have been proposed and even goes so far as to question whether the government will send the troops it has promised.
Moreover, The Spectator called for reform in the governing of India. Civil officials and British officers were portrayed as leading a negligent life. There was a demand for more understanding of, and less interference in, the lives of the Indian people, and a call for increased and more effective recognition of Indians in the service of Britain. All of this bears a striking resemblance to the stand taken by Disraeli.
It is interesting to note that in spite of the fact that information was scarce and of dubious quality, all three of the above newspapers felt confident in predicting victory and offering opinion. The paucity of real information is clearly indicated by "Punch's Essence of Parliament" for the week of June 29th to July 3rd. This column points out that; "The news from India brought up speakers in both houses, but nothing, of course, could be said by the Government, except that it had every confidence in the Indian authorities. The mail next week will show how far that confidence is merited." This would tend to indicate that either the government knew more than they were willing to state publicly or that they really did not have enough information to answer the questions raised in the House. Judging by the speed of the communications and the guarded tone that tended to be used in many of the communications, it would seem likely that the latter is the case. In this case, however, the earlier reports through the press would seem to have been highly speculative rather than being based on known facts. In any case, Punch had no other comment on the difficulties in India as of July 11 and it should be noted that this was the first occasion that the uprising had been mentioned at all in this publication.
Contrary to the reticents of Punch to indulge in any further comment on India, The Spectator did not hesitate to take this opportunity to engage in an attack on both the East India Company and the British officer corps in India. The Company was the first to centred out for attack;
This type of statement is a continuation of support for the replacement of the East India Company in favour of direct rule by the Crown. What is new, however, is the following statement about the British officers corps.
This is a wonderfully partisan report based on very little fact, and failing utterly to take into consideration circumstances that were extant on May 10th at Meerut. To begin with, the fact that it was Sunday is entirely ignored. This does not seem to be of any particular significance until one considers that it would be highly unlikely that the British officers would carry anything but side arms to church. Thus, at the time of the outbreak they would not have had any rifles at hand. This would obviously leave the British at a great disadvantage in engaging the mutineers who were armed with rifles. The next problem is that there were not anywhere near 2500 European soldiers stationed at Meerut except perhaps on paper. However, the assumption that there was this number on the ground gave a tremendous boost to the notion that the defeat was caused by gross mismanagement on the part of the officers. This allowed the continuation of another cherished myth of the British, and particularly Disraeli that; "The Sepoy is docile under careful and judicious management; he is irrepressible, and easily demoralized, if he be capriciously ruled, harshly treated, or neglected." The Sepoy was very much like a cocker spaniel in the minds of many of the British. He would only bite if he was mistreated and since he had now bitten, he must have been mistreated. This attitude in itself may have been a contributing factor to the outbreak. It is rather ironic that, while the Spectator's attack on the conduct of the officer corps may considered appropriate, the reason for their attack was based on the same misconceptions of the Sepoy as contributed to the discontent. Moreover, the very fact that the newspapers showed such signs of disbelief over the outbreak further highlights the notion that the British paid very little attention to what was happening in India. The 1857 Mutiny was not an isolated event. It was one of many resistance actions that had occurred since the British rose to power. The main difference was one of scale, not intent. It is also interesting to note that on this date (July 11th) The Saturday Review did not run any stories about India at all. This is significant in that it reflects the attitude of Palmerston that this was not going to be a major problem and that victory was at hand. By July 18th this attitude had changed.
The Saturday Review was still predicting victory but was now warning that the battle would be long and hard; "If Government do not win in the first hour, we may be sure that they will not win in the second." Recent news from India had put Palmerston in the awkward position of being seen as failing to do enough to counter the revolt. In contrast to the glowing praise that The Saturday Review had heaped on the authorities in India on July 4th, the paper now stated that; "...it can hardly be said that any blow has been struck." The fault, however, was not Palmerston's as the article goes on to say that the Meerut defeat was caused by the inaction of the authorities that were in place in India in that they failed to strike back boldly. It was this inaction on their part that had resulted in the spread of the revolt to the point that; "... the whole of North-western is in a blaze." Moreover, the death of the chief of the army was seen to be an additional factor that would slow down operations. All was certainly not lost though, since it was clear, according to this article, that the people had not risen to join the Sepoys and; "Of the eventual reestablishment of our authority there can be no doubt." It should be noted that by this time Palmerston had taken action in sending out large numbers of additional troops and dispatched Sir Collin Campbell to take command of the British forces in India. The drain on the military was so great, in fact, that there was concern expressed by the Queen and the Prince Consort that Britain's defences were too weak and that the nation was vulnerable to attack. The following letter was sent to Palmerston from the Queen:
On the same date, July 18th, The Spectator continued its attack of the previous week, on the failure of the European officers to "study Native character". In a separate column of the same date, the attitude noted above with regard to the character of Hindus was again stated and this time the allusion to animal like qualities was even clearer than before; "...the Hindoo is a tractable animal when he is managed with intelligence, intractable when his European managers are negligent or indiscrete." In this edition, the paper takes the description a little further though, in describing the mutineers as "half children in understanding.... actuated by the same spirit that animates schoolboys in the "barring out."" It may at least be said that the Indians have reached human status, though only that of inferior children. This is much the same attitude as Disraeli had toward Asians. Further, in a letter to the editor published on the same date, there is evidence for just how far this notion of the Hindu character had spread. Written by an individual who claims to have been a veteran of thirty years in India (no mean feat when one considers the mortality rate) this letter reiterates the notion that Hindus are children and that it has been through gross mismanagement that the insurrection occurred. This letter also calls for more equitable treatment of native officers in the form of increased pay and prestige. The theme of mismanagement as the cause of the mutiny does indeed seem to be widely accepted. However, the paper did see cause for optimism because of the dispatching of Campbell and the increase in the strength of British forces though there was still concern that enough had still not been done because no one capable of settling the Hindus down through diplomacy had been dispatched.
Both The Spectator and Punch ran columns which outlined the significant events of the House of Parliament for the week prior to publication. It is most interesting to examine and compare these columns for the week ending July 18th. Punch intended to attract what might be referred to as the sophisticated, educated middle and upper middle classes and dealt primarily in satirical humour. The Spectator sought to attract a much wider base of readership and presented itself as a hard news publication. As a result, Punch had a tendency to publish stories about political activities that had a direct effect on the people in Britain itself. Therefore, during the month of July, when the Mutiny did not seem like something that was going to have a profound domestic impact, very little is said about it in Punch. However, regardless of this, it is still intriguing to look at the reports that are given about the proceedings in the House. If one reads The Spectator it would be easy to conclude that all anyone was talking and writing about was the Indian Mutiny. On the other hand, by reading Punch, one could be forgiven for wondering if there was anything of significance happening in India. The only report that gives any indication that there is a conflict is a brief note for Monday July 6th reporting on an enquiry about how the troops were being shipped to India; by steam or by sail?According to this summary of Parliament there were no other questions or debates concerning India during the week. Throughout the month of July this would remain the case. Punch, when it did make mention of India, did so only as it concerned local notables such as Sir Collin Campbell. It was not until well into August that this magazine devoted any serious amount of space to the crisis.
However, on the last Saturday of July, The Spectator devoted nearly three full pages to what was now being called "the war". This date is particularly significant in that it is the first time that there was any doubt voiced as to whether the mutiny could be put down. Moreover, it is the first sign that there is any doubt about the feasibility to maintain an Indian Empire.
This is not the same great bravado that one found in papers a week or two previous. Within this statement are signs of real self doubt. Further, the article goes on to discuss earlier attempts at mutinies and insurrections in India. This is the first admission that the current crisis was not an isolated incident. It is also of interest to note that the Sepoys were no longer being referred to in condescending pet like terms. In this article they are called "Native mercenaries". Put in the context of the news that was reaching Britain about all the atrocities that were being committed on English women and children, this reaction on the part of The Spectator is quite understandable. The following quote from A History of Our Own Times written in 1881 captures the emotions that were generated.
By August 1st, with rumours running rampant about Russian subversion and with the public in an uproar over the reported atrocities, Disraeli saw his moment to attack the Palmerston ministry's policies. The Spectator and The Saturday Review both reported on Disraeli's speech in the House in a highly predictable manner. The former defended Disraeli and the latter attacked him.
The Saturday Review characterized Disraeli's motion as "... Extremely ill timed and extremely unpatriotic...", but then felt that it should be pardoned because this might be the only opportunity for Disraeli to display his knowledge of India. Further, it was believed that the timing of this outpouring of information was predicated by the fear that this knowledge would soon pass back into the trivial category that it was in before the outbreak of the mutiny. There was, however, a great deal of doubt expressed as to whether most of the information given by Disraeli was actually of any use in considering why the mutiny had occurred.
In his speech Disraeli had contended that the incident involving the greased cartridges had simply been the spark to the powder and that the true causes of the rebellion, which he now referred to as a national revolt, were a combination of interference by the British in local land rights and property succession, the abolition of certain religious customs, and the displacement of ancient royal houses. In response The Saturday Review totally ridiculed the idea that there could be any affection between the Sepoys and any of the deposed royal families and used the fact that the Sepoys had sought out the employ of a foreign power to dismiss the idea that there was any discontent with the abolition of religious customs and land rights. In a later article of the same date, The Saturday Review takes its anti Indian royal families stand a step further in proclaiming that the only mistake that had been made was in failing to dethrone all such families and to totally take away any vestiges of power. In this was they would not have been available to be used as rallying points for the rebellious Sepoys.
Disraeli's solution to the problem of the mutiny being a national revolt was to abolish the East India Company and place the Crown in direct control over India. This, he believed, would create a situation which would make control of the population easier since it would appeal to the "imagination" of the Indian mind. In one of the very few instances of its type The Saturday Review came in this case, to the defense of the Company. Pointing out that all of the changes that Disraeli saw as causative to the rebellion had been initiated and carried out by government and not company officials the newspaper questions the logic of then taking control away from the company. The problem with this attribution of blame is that, while the government officials were responsible for these actions in a legal sense, it was more often the case than not that these actions were taken on the advice and prompting of company officials who were proported to be experts and were relied upon as advisors.
The Spectator took quite a different view of the same events and statements in the House. While stating the belief that; "The real object of the Opposition leader was to make a display, showing that the statesmanship and mastery of the subject lay on his side", it was also conceded that; "...he was by no means unsuccessful." Further, it was granted that on the basis of the latest mails, the characterization of the crisis as a national revolt was not a historical blunder or a misuse of language but an astute reading of the situation. With regard to Disraeli's call for the dissolution of the power of the East India Company and the responses to that call from within the House, The Spectator reported with classic caustic partisan wit in stating that; "Mr. Mangles had something to say for the East India Company, Mr. Disraelis something smart in reply, and Lord Palmerston something because it was expected of him." Further columns of the same date supported Disraeli's call for direct rule by the Crown and attacked members of the Palmerston ministry, such as Vernon Smith, for being "clerklike" in their approach to the challenge of ruling India after the revolt was put down. Last, but certainly not least, in yet another column of the same date, The Spectator carried on its attack against the British officer corps for their lack of foresight and leadership in India and the recent events that still embroiled it.
Punch's response to the Disraeli speech was, while later in arriving, perhaps the most succinct of all. Both The Spectator and The Saturday Review had devoted considerable column space to the airing of their views. In contrast Punch ran a one page cartoon depicting Disraeli dressed as a Sepoy, stirring a pot labelled "For the House of Commons, July 27, 1857 to which he has apparently added what is called "King of Oude's Sauce". All of this was placed over the title; "The Asiatic Mystery. As Prepared by Sepoy D'Israeli". This one cartoon seems to convey, with greater clarity than all the inches of writing used in the other two papers, all of the mixed sentiments that the Disraeli speech aroused. Within it there was the notion of; Disraeli the factionalist stirring things up for the sake of disruption, Disraelis the expert on the Indian mind, and Disraelis the sympathiser with the King of Oude. Of course there was also an exaggeration of Disraeli's Jewish features which was meant to convey the idea that he was more than just a little foreign himself and this was part of the reason that he was so anxious to take the side of the Sepoys. Obviously the political slant is more in line with that of The Saturday Review than that of The Spectator but it is presented in such a way that even a Disraeli supporter might have trouble suppressing a smile when presented with it. Punch definitely fulfilled its goal of appealing to the wit of the educated middle and upper middle classes with this particular cartoon.
The political tendencies of both The Saturday Review and The Spectator have been examined thoroughly enough throughout the present paper that there should be no additional need to reiterate them at this point. However, as to the question of how their stories reflected the stands of the politicians that they supported, some additional comment may be appropriate. While The Saturday Review was unabashedly pro Disraeli, anti Palmerston and anti East India Company, The Saturday Review was not so blatant in all of its stances. Early on in its coverage of the mutiny, The Saturday Review showed absolutely no sympathy for the cause of the East India Company. However, as Disraeli increasingly made the company the target of his attack in the House of Commons, The Saturday Review altered its view and printed a series of pro company statements, especially after Disraeli made his speech in the House on July 27th. This highlights the fact that this was a strongly anti Disraeli paper and that it would, at all costs to continuity of editorial policy and statements, oppose anything that Disraeli said. This may also be a reflection of the attitudes that the newspaper's publishers perceived the public to have. As has been stated above, newspapers were primarily interested in selling copy and the publishers would have been very concerned about what the public wanted to read and make a conscious effort to satisfy that desire. Disraeli, in 1857, was not extremely popular to begin with and the speech he made in the House only served to lower his popularity since it appeared that he was siding with the enemy. When this is combined with the stories of atrocities that were circulating at the time it is not surprising that The Saturday Review would go out of its way to continue to appear to oppose Disraeli. It was perhaps for this same reason that Punch, which had very little to say about the mutiny throughout the month of July, was quick to employ its satirical wit when Disraeli made his speech.
The lack of attention to the mutiny on the part of Punch is, perhaps, less surprising than the increasingly great amount of attention paid to the crisis by The Saturday Review and The Spectator. There were, in fact, very few verifiable stories available at this time. Even The Times, which had a free lance stringer in India at the time, gave more column inches to local events in Britain, during the period under question, than to the mutiny. What is most interesting in all of these papers is that when they did write about the conflict in India, it was from the perspective of how Britain could best protect her interests or who would be best to rule India for Britain in the aftermath of the crisis. Not once was there ever any consideration given to the Indian people. This was a press that reflected the extreme self interest of the British in the mid 19th century. There was little concern for the rights of non British peoples or whether Britain had the right to rule over them. While this comes as no great surprise to any historian of the period it is interesting when one considers the notion that Britain has been held up as an example of responsible government and as embodying and protecting the rights of free men. However none of these notions are ever evident in the press when it is discussing any other people outside of Britain itself. Moreover, the press was quite willing to sacrifice whatever notions of truth and factual reporting it may have had in the cause of copy sales and partisan politics. Perhaps, when one looks at the press today and their handling of the reporting of current conflicts, it may be truly said that the more things appear to change, the more they stay the same.
Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire
by Bayly, C.A
by Lord Blake
by Sarah Bradford
Regina v. Palmerston
by Brian Connell
The Press and Society
by G. A. Cranfield
A History of Our Own Times
by Justin McCarthy
by John Stuart Mill
by W. Baring Pemberton
The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857
by Eric Stokes
A History of India
by Percival Spear
The History of Punch
by M. H. Spielman
by Anthony Trollope
A New History of India
by Stanley Wolpert
The Revolt in Hindustan
by Sir Evelyn Wood
Punch, or the London Charivari, July 4 - August 1, 1857.
The Saturday Review, July 4 - August 1, 1857.
The Spectator, July 4 - August 1, 1857.
The Times, July 1 - August 1, 1857.
Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames |