The Sepoy Rebellion: A Turning Point in British Occupation of India

Topics: Indian Rebellion of 1857, British Raj, East India Company Pages: 5 (1822 words) Published: April 4, 2014
The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 is also known as the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and India’s First War of Independence. There are several contributing factors to the spirit of rebellion that inspired the Indian Sepoys to rise up against their British Officers, the most famous of which is the lubricated cartridges in the Sepoy’s rifles. This failed rebellion marks a significant change in the social and political relationship between The United Kingdom and British Controlled India that would create the long lasting tension between the groups and would eventually lead to India’s independence. The British East India Company, originally known as The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, was unique in the fact that it was the only corporation to ever rule a nation. (Landow, “The British East India Company”). The corporation received its start on December 31st 1600 when a group of merchants received a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth for a monopoly on all trade in the East Indies (Lal). The formation of the company marked a difference in trade that was occurring at the time. Previously, all trade with Asia was done by land routes through the Middle East (Landow, “The British East India Company”). This all changed when the Portuguese, under the rule of Prince Henry the Navigator, completely revolutionized nautical technology which allowed for lengthy sea voyages (Koch, 7). After this era of invention, the Portuguese and Spanish had a monopoly on all spice trading in the East Indies up until 1588 when the British crushed the Spanish Armada, which opened up the East Indies to the Dutch, French and British (Landow, “The British East India Company”). By the time of King James I’s rule a decade later, the company was ready to go from merely trading to taking up permanent residence in the sub-continent. The company made its first transactions for land with India in 1608 at the port of Surat. There, Sir Thomas Roe contacted the Mughal Emperor Jahangir as a representative of King James I. In 1615 he finished the negotiations which would allow the British to build a factory in Surat (Lal). The company went on to become even more influential and wealthy by establishing several trading posts and English settlements throughout India (Lal). This expansion of territory was necessitated by a need to expand revenue in order to make ends meet. As of 1693, bribes to parliamentary officials and other important men were costing the Company about 90,000 pounds a year (Patel). These bribes were completely necessary, as without them the Company would surely have been shut down. The import of cheap South-Asian goods lined the pockets of a select few. Those involved in domestic business were actually hurt by these trades as foreign products were cheaper and thus sold better (Patel). While several acquisitions of land were made indirectly through economic means, some had to be taken by force, meaning that the Company had to build up an army (Patel). This army was useful not only in combatting locals for those lands which contained something of value, but in combatting other foreigners who also had an interest in these valuable lands. The French in particular were a hassle to the British East India Company which is not surprising given the long time rivalry between the two nations. They managed to incite local Mughul rulers to attack the British. The French and British would often engage in direct skirmishes, such as the Siege of Arcot, in which Robert Clive defeated the French with only 500 men (Cody). Through these wars and conquests, the British East India Company built up a considerable army which was maintained for the purpose of keeping order in the de facto colony. By 1857, this army included 200,000 Sepoys, was led by 40,000 British soldiers and controlled all of the subcontinent that Britain would ever come to control, having already kicked out the last small principalities in India (Patel). As the Company built up...

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