Illustration showing the sequence of events building up to the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857

Illustration showing the sequence of events building up to the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857
Illustration V. Hunjan, Believe Collective

Gurkhas played significant roles in a number of the British Indian Army's conflicts, but they first gained widespread recognition during the 1857 uprising of British Indian troops, which is referred to British as the 'Indian Mutiny' or ‘Sepoy Revolt’, and known in India as the 'Great Rebellion' or 'First War of Independence'.

An Indian Uprising

The 'mutiny' was a nation-wide rebellion of Indian troops and civilians against the British. There were many reasons behind this uprising of Indians' against their colonial rulers, but it was directly triggered in February 1857 when Indian 'sepoys' (soldiers) learned that the greasy wrapping paper around the cartridges of their new Enfield rifles was lubricated with a mixture of beef and pork fat. Troops were required to bite off the cartridge paper to load the weapon. Cows being sacred to Hindus and pigs 'haram' (unclean) to Muslims, the discovery of the beef and pork fat in the grease was seen as a sacrilegious insult to sepoys of both faiths. The resulting revolt shook India and the whole British Empire to its foundations. Britain's cruel retribution against the Indians who rose against them is one of the many forgotten shameful chapters in the history of the British Empire.

Sirmoor Battalion outside Hindu Rao's house, 1857.

Sirmoor Battalion Soldiers outside Hindu Rao House, Delhi Ridge 1857
©Gurkha Museum

Sirmoor Battalion (later to become the 2nd Gurkha Rifles) proved their courage and loyalty by occupying the most vulnerable position at Hindu Rao’s house, during the Siege of Delhi. They fought for three months, under constant fire from heavy artillery, losing two-thirds of their men. Their courage earned them the gratitude and undying admiration of their fellow British troops. From 1857 onwards Gurkhas were seen not simply as courageous and fearsome soldiers, but as honorary Britons. In 1858, as a mark of respect, the soldiers of the Sirmoor battalion were awarded the designation of ‘riflemen’ – on a par with their British brothers-in-arms, the 60th Rifles.

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