The Roots of the 1857 Rebellion in India
The rebellion by Bengal Army soldiers (Sepoys) in 1857 erupted out of growing discontent across a number of issues. Relations with the East India Company deteriorated after the annexation of the northern province of Oudh, in 1856. Local high-caste Brahmin Sepoys felt a conflict of loyalties and a blow to their own status. Concerns about evangelising and social reforming activities of the Company added to a festering resentment of the number of Europeans recruited into the Bengal Army. Orders that Sepoys would be liable for overseas service raised fears they would be forced to transgress religious prohibitions on cooking aboard ship or eating with lower-caste soldiers. The final flashpoint was the introduction of the new Enfield rifle. A rumour circulated among the Bengal Army Sepoys that the cartridge, which had to be bitten, was sealed with animal fat, abhorrent to both Hindu and Muslim soldiers. On the 10th of May, Sepoys in the City of Meerut mutinied and the rebellion soon spread across the upper Ganges plain and central India
The Storming of the Kashmir Gate
Two columns were ordered to rush in the walls of Delhi and a third consisting of 200 men of the 52nd Foot and 750 loyal Sepoys, was to await the blowing up of the Kashmir Gate, and then go in with the bayonet.
The explosion party mustered in the full light of a fine morning for their desperate work and advanced across a broken bridge under intense fire. The party consisted of a number of engineers and Bugler Hawthorne of the 52nd whose duty was to sound the advance when the gate was blown in. The air was full of uproar and confusion as British and rebel roundshot, rockets, shells and heavy showers of balls were exchanged. Despite the party suffering heavy casualties and treacherous fuses that refused to light, bags of powder placed against the gate exploded with a deafening report, with stones toppling from the gate and raining all around the survivors huddling in the ditch.
Bugler Hawthorne summoned the stormers, led by the men of the 52nd with a shrill call. The column broke through the gate battling its way towards the famous Chándni Chauk. The British and Indian soldiers suffered 3,817 casualties in capturing the city with rebel losses exceeding 5,000 men.
Bugler Robert Hawthorne VC
Robert Hawthorne was born in the village of Maghera, in County Londonderry in 1822
The assault on Delhi began with the blowing-up of the Kashmir Gate by an advanced explosives party comprising Lieutenant Philip Salkeld, Lieutenant Duncan Charles Home, Sergeant John Smith and Bugler Robert Hawthorne of the 52nd. Bugler Hawthorne was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry for his role in the blowing up of the gate in broad daylight preparatory to the assault, coolly sounding the advance under intense musket fire from the walls as the explosive charges were detonated, and then rescuing Lieutenant Salkeld, who had been badly wounded.
Bugler Hawthorne died in Manchester on 2nd February 1879, his grave being in Ardwick Cemetery. Hawthorne was one of 52 Irishmen awarded the Victoria Cross during the Indian Rebellion.
Kashmir Gate after the Battle