At the height of the savage and bitter Indian Mutiny, the British garrison at Cawnpore found itself surrounded in June 1857. Through a lack of resources, its commander, Major General Wheeler, agreed to surrender the city providing all the British inhabitants were granted free passage out of Cawnpore. But, just as the men women and children were about to embark on the boats that would take them to safety, the Mutineers attacked. All the British troops were killed, as were some of the women and children, with others being wounded. Those who survived, approximately 200 in number, were moved to a small villa called Bibighar. Held in awful conditions, many subsequently died from cholera and dysentery. When the rebel leader, Nana Sahib, learned that a large British force was approaching to relieve the captives, he ordered all the women and children to be killed. Though some of the sepoys refused to act, others began to hack about them with swords and cleavers. In the orgy of horror that followed, women were raped and mutilated, children stripped and murdered. In a bid to conceal the atrocity from the revengeful British troops, the corpses were thrown into a deep well. Just four of the original 200 people captured at Cawnpore lived to tell the gruesome tale by hiding under the bodies of the dead. Over many years James Bancroft has collected information on the victims and has interviewed some of the descendants. This has enabled him to examine the events at Cawnpore in 1857 through the lives of those who died and survived the atrocity, throwing new light on this very dark tale. The book is completed with photographs of the sites in India taken by one the families of the victims.
THE DEVIL’S TRAP The Victims of the Cawnpore Massacre During the Indian Mutiny
The Siege of Cawnpore was a key episode in the Indian rebellion of 1857. The besieged Company forces and civilians in Cawnpore were unprepared for an extended siege and surrendered to rebel forces under Nana Sahib, in return for a safe passage to Allahabad. However, their evacuation from Cawnpore turned into a massacre, and most of the men were killed. As an East India Company rescue force from Allahabad approached Cawnpore, 120 British women and children captured by the Sepoy forces were killed in what came to be known as the Bibighar Massacre, their remains being thrown down a nearby well in an attempt to hide the evidence. Following the recapture of Cawnpore and the discovery of the massacre, the angry Company forces engaged in widespread retaliation against captured rebel soldiers and local civilians. The murders greatly embittered the British rank-and-file against the Sepoy rebels and inspired the war cry “Remember Cawnpore!”