Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi

Comments on the Mutiny

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The relevant documents are:-

This table is an attempt to capture all of the statements made by the witnesses involving the Rani in the Mutiny and Massacre. Where a statement contradicts an accusation I have put it in italics. This happens more than once.

A Comparison of the Statements concerning the Rani's involvement in the Mutiny and Massacre
Mrs Mutlow Sahibuddin Gulam Muhammad Customs Clerk Scot Ellis
June 5th - - - The Rani places guards at her Palace and shuts herself up inside - -
- Skene and Gordon go to the Rani and ask for help and receive 50-60 guns and ammunition. She also provides 50 of her own sepoys - (Actual date not available) The Rani sends her lawyer and offers to protect the women and children at her palace. She sends 40 guards to protect the English Gordon sends a message to the Ranee asking for help, which is refused as the mutineers threatened her with death. - -
- The Rani recalls her men and they and she join with the mutineers - - The Rani's guards join the mutineers. - -
June 6th - - - 3 British officers attempt to gain admittance to the Rani to ask for help, but she refuses and has them taken to the mutineers. They are murdered. - -
June 7th - - - - - -
June 8th - A heavy cannon had been put in order by order of the Rani and was firing on the fort. The 40 guards join the rebellion. Skene assumes that the Rani also sided with the rebels. The Rani is threatened with instant assassination, so she provides the mutineers with 1000 (?) men and two heavy cannon. The Rani's troops joined in the attack. The Rani is 'at last forced' to help with Guns and Elephants
- The Fort surrenders. Skene requires that the Rani sign the surrender agreement, which she does. The British were reassured by Mahomed Sanar, a doctor, that they would be safe. - - - -
- - The Rani accompanies the mutineers to the pultun. During the Jhansi Massacre the Rani was in the Palace the whole time - - -
- (Actual date not available) The Rani offers a reward for the capture of Mrs Mutlow. - - - - -

It would be suspicious if all the witnesses corroborated every point of each others story, but the greater the involvement of the Rani, the less the corroboration, if not outright contradiction.

A lot of what is said of the Rani is, at best, hearsay. One of the witnesses, the 'Customs Clerk' was in prison when the events he 'witnessed' happened. He also reports what was said by the Rani in response to the request for help from the 3 British officers, something to which he could not possibly have been privy at even the second or third hand. When you remove the hearsay and dubious parts of the statements you are left with nothing of substance.

As for the unfortunate, and much-abandoned, Mrs Mutlow; she has been reduced to begging and to being a 'kept-woman', the last few lines of her statement perhaps reveal all and in particular the sentence ' Now its master's will to do some good for me and two children'. She has tried to please 'master', ie the British officers, and now she needs some help in return. The poor woman is desperate. Sen states that her friend, Daulat Ram, is a British spy, which makes anything she learnt from him suspect, apart from being hearsay in any case. Certainly his story of the letters being confiscated seems odd. If the letters of a wanted woman were confiscated, why wasn't he also confiscated?

According to Sen, Captain Pinkney who, along with Scot, investigated the events in Jhansi found no corroboration for Mrs Mutlow's statement of the Rani's part in the surrender of the fort, but put in his report that the British negotiated the surrender through 'Saleh Mahommed, Native Doctor'. Pinkney also stated in his report that the massacre was ordered by the 'Risaldan' without the complicity of the Rani.

Mr Thorntons statement may have had a part in British thinking even though it seems illogical and, yet again, can only be reporting hearsay. To be fair to Thornton he prefaces his remarks with 'It is the general impression that...' and then gives a fairly detailed account of events he could not have witnessed. It requires us to believe that Lakshmibai invited back into Jhansi the very people that had just plundered the town, to commit yet more violence and to place herself at risk of from that violence.

The elements that we can take from the statements listed above as approaching the truth are:-

  • Initially the Rani attempted to provide help, and this was refused.

  • The Rani's men joined the mutineers.

  • The Rani was threatened with death and the destruction of her Palace by the mutineers

  • In the end the Rani did provide assistance to the mutineers, but only under duress.

In other words these witnesses tend to corroborate the Rani's account and that of T.A. Martin. The Rani's account is further corroborated by the statement of one of the mutineers. According to Sir Robert Hamilton, this statement was itself consistent with others and he considered it to be, 'as far as it goes', creditable.

There were many witnesses and other statements were taken, but those of Mrs Mutlow, the Customs Clerk and the two orderlies are the only ones quoted, from which I assume they are the only ones that offer evidence against the Rani.

Other Possibilities

Perhaps the Rani tried to instigate and encourage the mutiny. Possibly. One of her servants was reported to be doing just that, though the report adds that it was not known if he were doing so with the Rani's authority. Her father is likewise accused, and the 'Customs Clerk' accuses him of sentencing him to death for helping the British, but the Clerk's statement has to be treated with some scepticism.

Moreover the threats issued against the Rani by the mutineers hardly suggests a friendly relationship. It is hardly likely that she would foment mutiny and then attempt to help the British when it started.

It is quite likely that the Rani wanted Jhansi back, and I've no doubt that a poll of Indians would have revealed a large majority in favour of getting rid of the British. However that does not imply active involvement. The Rani was well aware of the military strength of the British and the weakness of the Indian forces.

Perhaps she was riding out the Mutiny, hoping that as a by-product she would be able to regain Jhansi. There is nothing to suggest that, her letters to the British imply just the opposite, she was looking for them to return, to restore order, even as late as January 1858

There is no event that requires the involvement of the Rani as part of its explanation. There is no reason to suppose that anything that happened in Jhansi at this time would not have happened if Lakshmibai had never been born. What happened subsequently is another matter.

The impression I have is that the Rani did try to help the British, that as a result she was threatened by the mutineers, which was enough to scare her into withdrawing from the scene. She was in a very weak and frightening position; all the forces of law and order were in open revolt, prisoners had been released from gaol, plundering and looting had occurred. Her own troops joined the rebels, but since the rebels included not just the mutineers but all the other forces in Jhansi (the police, the prison guards (whose leader took a leading role), the customs and salt excise officers) this can hardly be a surprise. After the massacre the rebels then turned on the Rani with demands for assistance which she was obliged to yield. That the rebels are supposed to have chanted 'Jhansi for the Rani' does not imply her involvement but was quite possibly for the benefit of the towns people.

If the Rani's reactions seem to be less than heroic then that should be no surprise; she was in a situation which was confused and volatile, in which she was extremely vulnerable and for which she could have had no preparation; it was all totally outside her experience.

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Last modified: 2005-09-23 23:23:01.000000000