Fears of 1857
This dissertation examines the impact of the 1857 Indian rebellion on the British Empire. The uprising began as a mutiny of troops in the north Indian town of Meerut on May 10, 1857, but quickly widened into a massive civil rebellion. For nearly eighteen months much of northern India was up in arms against British power. While scholars have long known that the 1857 rebellion was an imperial crisis, there has been little analysis of its impact outside Britain and India. My work departs from this historiographical tradition to explore the repercussions of 1857 in Jamaica, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Cape Colony in South Africa. The shockwaves of the uprising were felt immediately in each of these colonies. From Ireland to New Zealand, colonial administrators and Britons organized military, financial, and spiritual assistance for British efforts in India. And, much of this support was offered without mediation by London officials. Even after the rebellion had been suppressed, the violence of 1857 continued to have lasting effect. The fears generated by the uprising transformed how the British understood their relationship with the colonized and gave rise to an imperial policy dependent on the greater exercise of force. In the wake of the rebellion, many colonial officials expressed concern that the events in India might be replicated elsewhere. As colonial conflicts erupted in violence throughout the 1860s, many Britons understood the later crises in light of the 1857 Indian rebellion. In response, colonial officials around the Empire used force to maintain British control and hegemony. By studying four colonial sites, this dissertation moves beyond the traditional core-periphery model and points to the dense connections that knit together the British Empire. This study is also unique in its approach. Rather than examine each case study individually, I adopt an integrated method of analysis. This framework allows me to not only provide insight into the broad impact of the Indian rebellion, but also shed light on the functioning of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. London was not always at the center of activity. In response to 1857, Britons throughout the Empire debated methods of counter insurgency, military recruiting, and colonial governance. Colonial officials actively sought to utilize imperial connections, applying the lessons learned in one region to the problems surfacing in another. Methods of rule in the British Empire were developed neither in one location nor by one individual and the flows of information from one colony to another played a crucial role in shaping imperial policy.