Guns of the India Mutiny
Page 2

by Garry James
From Dixie Gun Works Blackpowder Annual

After considerable testing, they settled on an arm of the French Minie system.  This practicle muzzle-loader employed a hollow-based sub-caliber conical bullet that a soldier could ram down the barrel easily, which, when the gun was fired, would be expanded into the rifling by the force of the explosion.

The first British issue Mini rifle was the .702 caliber Pattern of 1851.  Externally it resembled the older smoothbores, with the exception that it mounted a sophisticated graduated rear sight rather than the customary non-adjustable notch.  This arm was issued to selected troops in the Crimea, where it received almost instant acclaim.

Swiss smallbore experiments convinced the Select Arms Committee that a reduction in caliber would provide greater range, better accuracy and an advantage in logistics.  Exhaustive research and redesigning resulted in one of the finest arms of the age, the .577 caliber Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket.  The gun was sleeker and lighter than its forebearers and, for the first time in an English military arm, had a barrell that was secured to the stock by bands rather than pins or wedges.  With its brass furniture, browned barrell, case-hardened lock and oiled walnut stock, it was indeed a handsome piece.

Though tests showed that ranges of 900 yards were not excessive for the riflr, it was agreed that the P-53 Enfield did its best work at distances between 50 and 300 yards.

The cartridges for the P-53 consisted of a heavy paper tube containing 2  1/2 drams (68 grains) of musket powder and a 530-grain, pure lead "Pritchett" type bullet which had a boxwood plug in its hollow base to improve expansion.  As the bullet incorporated no annular grease rings like the French and American Minies, it was wrapped with a strip of greased paper to facilitate loading.  Then cartridge itself was covered with a thin mixture of beeswax and mutton tallow for waterproofing.

To load his rifle, the soldier first bit off the rear of the cartridge and poured the powder down the barrel.  He then inverted the tube (the projectile was palced in the cartridge base up), pushed the end portion into the muzzle to the approximate depth of the bullet and tore off the remaining paper.  The bullet could then be easily rammed on top of the charge.

P-53 Enfields saw limited used during the Crimean War, and their marked superiority over the older muskets, and even the P-51s, caused them to be in great demand.  The War Department and East India Company set about equipping all their troops with versions of the P-53 rifle musket, and by early 1857 the arm was being carried in India by the regular British regiments hired out to the Company, as well as many sepoys (native troops).

At first the rifles were well received by the sepoys, but sooner a rumor was spread that the cartridges were greased with pig's or cow's fat.  The former was regarded by the Muslims as unclean, and the latter by the Hindus as sacred.  To the native troops this was just another plot by the Feringhees to force them to renounce their traditional religions.

Fears and rejection of the cartridge began to spread.  Officers noticing the unrest amongst the sepoys suggested that the drills be revised to allow the men to tear off the base of the cartridge with their fingers, or to allow the troops to grease their own cartridges.  These reasonable suggestions, however, had come too late.

During a parade on February 27, 1857, the sepoys of the 19th Native Infantry refused to accept their issue of cartridges.  Their commander, Colonel Mitchell, rushed to the parade ground and threatened to ship the troops to Burma.  The soldiers became restive and Colonel Mitchell backed down, fearing an open revolt.  He allowed the men to retain their arms and return to duty while he decided what to do.  On March 23 the 19th Infantry was marched some 90 miles to the south to Barrackpore where it was ignominiously disbanded.

     Three days later another incident occured which brought the situation rapidly to a head.  A Sepoy named Mangal Pande had run amok during a parade and cut down two British officers.  He harangued the troops to join him and kill all the British, while surprised officers looked on aghast.  The commander at Barrackpore, General John Hearsey, rushed to the scene and


For corrections, please contact the Webmaster