British Empire Books

The Companion to the Indian Mutiny

Contributed by John Baxter

EditorPJO Taylor
PublisherOxford University Press
New Delhi
ISBN No.0195638638

The Indian Mutiny has attracted less interest than several other colonial conflicts in recent times. However, as the bibliography contained in this very worthy book indicates (with around 1,000 entries), Victorian England placed great emphasis on India and the Indian Mutiny. It is doubted whether any of the other colonial conflicts could match this level of attention, despite the modern emphasis on South Africa and the Sudan.

This companion is a much-needed addition to modern writings on the Indian Mutiny. The editor highlights that 'the function of the Companion is not so much to tell the story of the Indian Mutiny/Rebellion of 1857, as to direct the scholar or the general reader to appropriate sources of information'. In fact it does much more than this, as it gives an overwhelming amount of detail on an enormous range of issues. It has nearly 1,500 entries, of which some 200 are anecdotes. Do not expect to see a focus on lengthy narratives, maps or OB's of the various actions. It is far more interested in giving the flavour of the period and providing information about the places and people caught up in the "Devils Wind".

Many of the major personalities (especially British) are only covered briefly (e.g. Colin Campbell has only one paragraph). The focus, as one can imagine with 1,500 entries, is at a far more intricate level with minor incidents and people receiving their due regard.

For example, the incident at Fatehgarh (near Cawnpore) is described by nine entries over five pages, covering descriptions of the town and fort, accounts by a British planter and two Indians, a narrative from an Indian source, a detailed listing of the refugees that fled to Cawnpore and Dharampur, the survivors of same and a note of sources. An incident such as this has as much detail as the siege of Delhi.

The bibliography and photos are also strengths. The value of the bibliography to a person such as myself (living in Australia), that purchases by mail from the likes of Ken Trotman in the UK, is immense. It contains around 1,000 entries over 33 pages. It helps to 'sort out the wheat from the chaff' when buying books by mail. Many accounts are either poorly written or suffer from being unable to see the Indian view and these are exposed as such in the Companion. The number of books listed that are published in/by India/ns is also a strength. 24 pages of colour photos of places such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi Fort compliment the text.

Published in India, some aspects of the book's production are below normal standards, but it is still above typical Indian publishing standards and does not really detract from its enjoyment.

Reviews by Ian Knight (Age of Empires) and Brian Robson (SOTQ) were also very positive, Robson calling the book 'an essential book' and 'that it must become a standard reference'.

In summary, a vital book for those interested in the Indian Mutiny or India. I'll close with an amusing entry from the Companion listed under "Extreme Punishment":

'An officer, one of Grant's ADCs, had his throat cut taking a stuperous nap after a nip of liquor..... It was a horrid death for him, but he is good riddance, nobody liked him, and he has not paid his mess bill'.

Buy this book at: Amazon