Vellore was the capital of erstwhile North Arcot district in Tamil Nadu. At present, this district is named after its capital Vellore. It is a well fortified and beautiful city.
With the expansion of the East India Company’s rule in India, the native rulers and their dependents suffered. The native rulers either submitted or rebelled. These rebellions had no clear vision or ideal but purely motivated by the territorial interest of the native rulers and their ambition to preserve the old feudal order.
The heroism and sacrifice of individuals like Puli Thevar, Kattabomman and Marudu Brothers had no parallel. But all these leaders never organised the common people for a unified and meaningful cause. The ideas of nationalism, political consciousness and organized struggle came much later. In Vellore the native sepoys rose in revolt in 1806.
This incident differs from other previous rebellions in. The earlier rebellions were those of the native rulers. The Vellore Mutiny was organized by the sepoys. The earlier rebellions had only a regional interest. Every prince wanted to safeguard his own kingdom at any cost. But Vellore Mutiny was the result of spontaneous outflow of the feelings of the sepoys who served under the Company. It was a protest by the sepoys against the Company. This protest showed the future possibilities.
Causes of the Vellore Mutiny
Several causes are attributed to the Vellore Mutiny. Indian sepoys had to experience numerous difficulties when they went to serve in the Company’s army. The sepoys were forced to serve under the Company since their earlier patrons (the native chieftains) were all disappearing from the scene.
The strict discipline, practice, new weapons, new methods and uniforms were all new to the sepoys. Anything new appears to be difficult and wrong for a man who is well-settled in the old way of life for a long-time. Sir John Cradock, the commander-in-chief, with the -approval of Lord-William Bentinck, the Governor of Madras, introduced a new from of turban, resembling a European hat. Wearing ear rings and caste marks were also prohibited.
The sepoys were asked to shave the chin and to trim the moustache. The sepoys felt that these were designed to insult them and their religious and social traditions. There was also a popular belief that this was the beginning of a process by which all of them would be converted to Christianity. The English treated the Indian sepoys as their inferior. There was the racial prejudice.
This was the psychological base for the sepoy mutinies in India during the Company’s rule. The sepoys once served the local chieftains (either Hindu or Muslim). The chieftains were their own kinsmen but now they served under the foreigners. They can never forget their original loyalties. The Vellore uprising was preceded by a series of protests by the Indian troops. In May 1806, the 4th Regiment rose in revolt against the new turban. The Commander-in-Chief took severe action the sepoys who were found guilty were punished with 500 to 900 lashes.
Before the mutiny secret associations were formed and meetings held in which Tipu’s family took part. On June 17th 1806 a sepoy of the 1st Regiment named Mustapha Beg, secretly informed his commanding officer, Colonel Forbes, that a plot had been planned for the extermination of the European officers and troops. But this was not taken seriously .
On the eve of the Mutiny at Vellore Fettah Hyder, the first son of Tipu, tried to form an alliance against the English and sought the help of the Marathas and the French. Fettah Hyder received secret information through one Mohommed Malick.Besides, princes Fettah Hyder and Moiz-ud-Deen in particular were active in planning the execution of the Mutiny. Thus, there was the desire to revive the old Muslim rule in this region.
The sepoys were aware of the tragic end of Puli Thevar, Khan Sahib, Kattabomman, Marudu Brothers, Tipu Sultan and others. Hence there were ill-feelings about the British in the minds of the sepoys. All these led to the rebellion.
Course of the Mutiny
On July 10th in the early morning the native sepoys of the 1st and 23rd Regiments started the revolt . Colonel Fancourt, who commanded the garrison, was their first victim. Colonel Me Kerras of the 23rd Regiment, was shot down on the parade-ground. Major Armstrong was the next officer to be killed during the mutiny. About a dozen other officers were also killed.
Major Cootes who was outside the fort dashed to Ranipet, 14 miles away, and informed Colonel Gillespie at 7 am . Col. Gillespie reached the Vellore fort at 9 A.M. Meantime, the rebels proclaimed Futteh Hyder, Tipu’s first son, as their new ruler and hoisted tiger-striped flag of Tipu Sultan. But the uprising was swiftly crushed by Col. Gillespie. 800 Indian soldiers were found dead in the fort alone. Six hundred soldiers were imprisoned in Tiruchi and Vellore. Some rebels were hung, some shot dead. The uprising was thus brought to a bloody end.
Tipu’s son was sent to Calcutta. The commander-in-chief and the governor were recalled. Vellore Mutiny failed. There was no proper leadership. The rebellion was also not well organized. But it is the starting point of a new era of the resistance of the sepoys to the British rule. The 18th century was marked by the resistance of the local chieftains. The first six decades of 19th century was marked by the resistance of sepoys. K.K. Pillai rejects the thesis that Vellore Mutiny led to the 1857 revolt. V.D. Savarkar calls the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 as the prelude to the first War of Indian Independence in 1857. N. Sanjivi proclaims that the Tamils had taken the real lead in the Indian freedom struggle. K. Rajayyan argues that this mutiny was a continuation of the Marudu Brothers’ resistance movement against the colonial rule.