These are the first two volumes to be published in the 'India's
Historic Battles Series' edited by Sqn Ldr Rana Chhina. As he says
in his Editor's Note: 'While academic rigour has been applied to the
research, the tone of the volumes is not academic. On the contrary, it
is intended to appeal to the lay reader, while meeting the requirements
of the discerning historian as well.' As far as these two books are
concerned, he is right on both counts.
When the first shots were fired in Meerut on 10 May 1857, there began
18 months of some of the bloodiest fighting in the northern plains of
India that the subcontinent had ever witnessed. So it is not surprising
that four of the first six volumes in the first release of the 'India's
Historic Battles Series' should be targeted on the Indian Mutiny, as
the British called it, or the First War of Independence as some Indian
writers have described it, or, to use more neutral terms, The Great Uprising of 1857. Other volumes in the pipeline will cover Meerut and
the Siege of Delhi. The two remaining volumes will serve as historic
bookends, one covering the Battle of Haldighati in 1576, when the
Mughals defeated the Rajputs of Mewar, the other covering the Battle
of Kohima and Imphal in 1944-45, when General Slim's forces halted
the Japanese advance into East Bengal in World War Two.
These are pocket-sized paperbacks for the history-curious traveller.
The authors' brief was to condense the relevant history into 30,000
words. What is remarkable is how much detailed narrative and
practical information has been successfully incorporated in each book
while achieving this goal.
Both authors come with a distinguished pedigree. There is probably
no British historian alive with more knowledge and understanding
of the city of Lucknow and the kingdom of Oude (Awadh) than
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones. Her previous books on the Mutiny period
include: A Fatal Friendship, The Nawabs, the British and the City of
Lucknow (OUP India, 1985), The Great Uprising in India 1857-58
(Boydell Press, 2007), The Last King in India, Wajid Ali Shah
(Hurst & Co. 2014) and The Estate of Major General Claude Martin at Lucknow: An
Indian Inventory. Andrew Ward is the author of the most recent and
definitive history of what happened to the British garrison at Kanpur
(Cawnpore) in 1857: Our Bones Are Scattered (John Murray, 1996).
He is a widely-recognised authority on the subject. The two authors
also contributed chapters on, respectively, Lucknow and Cawnpore,
to The Uprising of 1857 (Mapin Publishing and the Alkazi Collection
of Photography, 2017).
The Uprising in Lucknow must be seen in the context of the
annexation of the kingdom of Oudh by the Governor General, Lord
Dalhousie, in 1856. Having filled in this background and introduced
the principal players on both sides, Llewellyn-Jones concludes
Chapter 2 of Lucknow 1857 by providing an invaluable summary of
the forces who were ranged against each other at the various stages
of the conflict. This section, entitled 'Orders of Battle' provides as
good a breakdown of the military manpower deployed on both sides
(cavalry, infantry, artillery, numbers and size of guns, numbers of
men, regiments, names of commanders etc.) as can be found in any of
the many previously published works on the siege of Lucknow. The
book is worth buying just for that.
A brief chronology follows in Chapter 3. The meat is in Chapter 4,
which contains a narrative account, masterly for its concision and
yet full particulars, of the fighting in and around Lucknow from the
time of Sir Henry Lawrence 's unsuccessful first strike at the battle of Chinhat on the 30 June 1857 to the final recapture of the city by Sir
Colin Campbell between 4 and 19 March 1858.
As we are reminded in the Editor's Note, modem development has
obliterated many of the historic landmarks of the Mutiny period.
This can make it difficult for the 21st century visitor to get his or her
bearings. In the case of Lucknow, the difficulty is highlighted in the
author's description (page 114) of just how many of the buildings
which feature prominently in her narrative have been wholly or partly
destroyed in the past 150 or so years. But Lucknow has fared better
than Kanpur and, arguably even than Delhi, in retaining remnants of
its former royal buildings and palaces. And the preserved ruins of
the former British Residency and its compound are a unique remnant
of the Uprising, which now stand as a memorial to those who fought
on both sides. A good example of what once was there and what has
survived is shown in the juxtaposed images of the Neill Darwaza
on pages 70 and 71. More groupings of 'then and now' illustrations
would have been helpful, but this is a minor criticism. A modem
map of the centre of the city with the routes taken by Havelock
and Outram and then Campbell (twice) marked on it, and a key
identifying the location of the mid-19th century buildings, would
have been the ideal: but this is practically impossible to achieve in
There is much less left of mid-19th century Cawnpore and little
remains of General Wheeler's entrenchment. But the most atrocious
acts of the Uprising happened in and around Cawnpore. As Andrew
Ward puts it: 'The treachery and brutality of the siege of the Cawnpore
Entrenchment and its aftermath, followed by the East India Company's
rapacious and indiscriminate reprisals, is a story of unremitting horror
and devastation in which no Indian or British apologist should take
unalloyed pride.' It is hard to gainsay that assessment.
Kanpur 1857 follows the same format as the Lucknow volume. Ward's
introduction neatly explains the lineage of Nana Sahib and his reasons
for disaffection with the British long before 1857. That his envoy,
Azimullah Khan, should have been unimpressed by what he saw of the
Queen's Army in the Crimea is revealing. The chronology is especially
valuable for including (in italics) events outside the Cawnpore theatre
in 1857, so the build-up to the ambush at the Sati Chaura Ghat, the
massacre in the Bibighar and subsequent British retribution is seen in
the context of the Mutiny elsewhere. The narrative of events at the
heart of the book (pages 30-166) is a brilliantly condensed version
of the much more detailed account in Our Bones Are Scattered. The
precis, if anything, heightens the suspense, even though the gruesome denouement is so well-known. The fate of that handful of survivors: Amy Horne, Margaret Wheeler, Lieutenants Mowbray Thomson and
Henry Delafosse and Privates Murphy and Sullivan, assumes greater
prominence when fewer column inches are devoted to how the women
and children in the Bibighar House met their end. As Ward says:
'What exactly followed ... when the Nana Sahib's guards received
the order to execute the women and children can hardly be imagined,
and has no place perhaps, in a battlefield guide.'
In his Conclusions, Ward makes the telling point that the Memorial
Well in Cawnpore was a millstone about the neck of the Independence
Movement in India until it was counter-balanced on the British side
by the Martyrs' Well at Jallianwallah Bagh.
For such slim and inexpensive volumes these
books are very well-illustrated with maps, prints and photographs,
past and present. Many of the illustrations come from the authors'
own collections and are not to be found elsewhere. Each book ends
with a list of 'Practical Information for Visitors', demonstrating their
worth as pocket histories and guidebooks rolled into one. The Editor
is to be congratulated for engaging such distinguished authors for
these first two volumes: it bodes well for the rest of the Series.