Introduction

Cawnpore occupies a unique position in the history of the Indian Mutiny. It supplies the only instance where personal hatred and personal revenge actuated the instigators of the tragedy. It presents the solitary example of a definite plan of procedure arranged by recognised leaders. The outbreaks at Meerut, at Delhi, at Lucknow, and other places, were without purpose or policy. At Cawnpore all was coldly and carefully thought out beforehand. Whether the final horror was contemplated may be doubted, but when it was decided upon, it was carried out with fiendish determination and completeness. Nana Sahib, and his lieutenant Azimoolah Khan, found a ready and willing instrument at hand in a woman, and the official inquiry subsequently held showed beyond question that to Hooseinee Khanum, the servant of the Nana’s favourite dancing-girl, belongs the infamy of the House of Massacre.

It may seem to some that the story of Cawnpore is one too painful to revive, and if the remembrance meant the horrors alone I should be disposed to agree. But Cawnpore signifies far more than a mere recital of horrors. It stands for all that is noble, heroic, and enduring in the men and women of Great Britain; and as a monumental example of dauntless courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice it cannot be excelled in the world’s history.

“Red Revenge” is an attempt to picture the progress of events in Cawnpore leading up to the occupation of Sir Hugh Wheeler’s ill-fated entrenchment, and its terrible sequel. I have not sought to heighten the effect by dwelling on the feeling of detestation with which, during the Mutiny, the sepoys were regarded in England. The exceptional ferocity exhibited at Cawnpore was at the moment held to be evidence of innate savagery and lust for blood, justifying the repulsive reprisals of Neill. Time has modified this view. It is a question whether the cause of that ferocity is not to be attributed to some form of dementia, such as found its outlet in France under the Reign of Terror. Throughout the Mutiny the contagion of the mania for bloodshed, and the highly strung condition of those who were drawn within the influence of that mania, were especially noticeable. The nerves of the East Indian are not to be judged by those of the Anglo-Saxon. The Mutiny was started by one man, Mungul Pandy, who ran amok; the subsequent breaking away of regiments of “Pandies” was but a process of the same kind. In a great measure this was the case at Cawnpore, but with a difference. The Nana and Azimoolah knew how to take advantage of the weakness of their countrymen, and they utilised it for their own merciless schemes. Herein lies the dramatic element in the story of Cawnpore.

The intertwining of fiction with fact is generally attended by the subordination of one to the other. Contrary to the usual rule, I have thought it advisable to give the leading place to fact. In the case of Cawnpore it was difficult to do otherwise. The bare narrative is so full of detail, so exciting in its various situations, so swift in its action, and its catastrophe so colossal, that it naturally overshadows individual interests. Of a necessity, Mowbray Thomson, Shepherd, and Trevelyan have been largely drawn upon in so far as the occupation of the entrenchment and its siege are concerned; what happened after the destruction of the boats, and the return of the doomed women to Cawnpore, is derived from the evidence of natives given at the official inquiry.

Charles E. Pearce