Nana Sahib at Cawnpore: 1857

Christopher Hibbert describes how the massacre at Cawnpore was one of the events in the Indian Mutiny not expected by benevolent British Commanders.

‘All well at Cawnpore,’ the Governor-General of India was assured during the third week in May 1857. ‘The plague is in truth stayed... A very few days will see the end of it.’ A fortnight earlier the native regiments at Meerut and Delhi had broken out in mutiny and, assisted by badmashes and Muslim fanatics, had massacred their British masters. But the General in command at Cawnpore, Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler, was confident that there would be no such outrages in his area.

A short, spare, grey-haired man of sixty-seven, Wheeler had spent nearly all his life in India. He loved the country; he loved his sepoys whose language he spoke as well as they did themselves; he had married an Indian woman. He refused to believe that there would be any serious trouble with the four native regiments at Cawnpore, even though they outnumbered the British troops about ten to one. The commanding officers of these regiments had expressed their complete trust in the staunchness of their men.

Besides, in Wheeler’s opinion, the influential local magnate, Dhondu Pant, the Maharajah of Bithur, who was of the same Hindu caste as Lady Wheeler, could always be relied upon to support the British should the need arise. Dhondu Pant, known as Nana Sahib, was then about thirty-five years old. He was one of the adopted sons of the last Peshwa of Bithur, Baji Rao II, a Mahratta monarch who had been dethroned by the British and granted a pension in exchange for his former dominions.

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