The British Empire Library

The Uprising of 1857

Edited by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
There is perhaps no event in the long history of the British empire in India that continues to exert so strong and abiding a fascination as the great uprising of 1857. Referred to variously as the Indian Mutiny, the First War of Independence, or the ghadr (rebellion), the sheer volume of writings on the subject over the last 150 years bear testimony to the enduring nature of its appeal. A recently published bibliography alone runs into over 850 pages (Harold E Raugh Jr, The Raugh Bibliography of the Indian Mutiny: 1857-1859, West Midlands: Helion, 2015). This edited volume is published in collaboration with the Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi. Its title comfortably bridges the gap between colonial and nationalist perspectives, and sets the tone for the balanced and well-nuanced essays that appear within its pages. The volume consists of nine essays, introduced by the editor, who is a well known authority on the culture and history of Lucknow and old Awadh. The book is remarkable both for the quality of its written content as well as the visual delight afforded by the inclusion of numerous rare photographs, maps and illustrations, which mark its association with the outstanding Alkazi collection. As may be expected, the quality of images reproduced in the volume is of the highest standard.

In her introduction, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones broadly examines the imagery associated with the revolt, including contemporary sketches, lithographs and photographs. These are put into current context based on fresh perspectives of the events of 1857. In her own words, the book '...marries little known photographs with new texts on the Mutiny by current scholars'. In addition, she has also contributed an essay on 'Lucknow and the Royal Family of Awadh' which recounts the sorry tale of perfidy and betrayal that led to the annexation of Awadh and the destruction, not only of the city of Lucknow, but its rich cultural heritage as well.

Three essays, by Shahid Amin, Mahmood Farooqui and Nayanjot Lahiri, respectively, deal with aspects of the uprising in Delhi. The first, by Shahid Amin, 'History of the Sepoy War: A View from the Delhi Ridge and Cavalry Lines' revisits 'the logic of Empire' and the dynamics of contemporary commemoration through an examination of the linkage between written historical accounts and the images that recorded the events and locations they described. Mahmood Farooqui in his essay 'Two Muslim Intellectuals of Delhi and 1857' views the complex Indian response to the Uprising through the contemporary writings of Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib and Moulvi Mohammed Baqar. Of particular interest is his observation of the manner in which the Indian secular nationalist narrative of the 1857 Uprising has over the years marginalised the contribution of the Muslim Ulema who had played a leading part in the revolt. Nayanjot Lahiri offers an interesting view on the processes of commemoration and memorialisation of the Uprising through a study of the documentary evidence - including photography - in the essay 'Commemorative intent as seen through Images of Delhi'. In The House of the Ladies: Cawnpore' Andrew Ward recalls the horrors of the Bibighar at Kanpur, whilst Tapti Roy traces the events of the revolt in Central India in 'Uprising in Bundelkhand'. In it Roy focuses on the involvement of the rebel Marathas and Bundela Rajputs and the role of the three kingdoms of Orchha, Jhansi and Datia, both before and during the uprising. Susan Gole provides a hithertofore unexplored analysis in her 'Maps for the Uprising of 1857'. The cartographic images accompanying her article are particularly unique and fascinating. Two of the contributors have specifically focused on the use of photography to document the events, and educate and influence viewers. Zahid R Chaudhary's essay 'Colonial Violence and Photography' examines the use of the camera as a weapon of colonial subjugation while Stephanie Roy Bharath's 'Photographing the Uprising of 1857' discusses the photographers, official, private and amateur, who documented the aftermath of the conflict through their lens. While it is not a book of photographs, the images that accompany the essays within the pages of this scholarly work are undoubtedly unique and set the publication apart from the numerous other books on 1857 that have preceded it. The impact of the images upon the reader is best described by a writer quoted in the book: 'A photograph is a bullet shot from the past into the future.'

British Empire Book
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones
First Published
Mapin Publishing
Review Originally Published
Spring 2018 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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