49. Victoria, A.D. 1857—1860
Peace had been made after the Crimean war, and everybody hoped it was going to last, when very sad news came from India. You know I told you the English people had gone to live in India, and had gradually gained more and more lands there, so that they were making themselves rulers and governors over all that great country. They had some of the regiments of the English army to help them to keep up their power, and a great many soldiers besides—Hindoos, or natives of India, who had English officers, and were taught to fight in the English manner. These Hindoo soldiers were called Sepoys. They were not Christians, but were some of them Mahommedans, and some believed in the strange religion of India, which teached people to believe in a great many gods—some of them very savage and cruel ones, according to their stories, and which forbids them many very simple things. One of the things it forbids is the killing a cow, or touching beef, or any part of it.
Now, it seems the Sepoys had grown discontented with the English; and, besides that, there came out a new sort of cartridge—that is, little parcels of powder and shot with which to load fire-arms. The Sepoys took it into their heads that these cartridges had grease in them taken from cows, and that it was a trick on the part of the English to make them break the rules of their religion, and force them to become Christians. In their anger they made a conspiracy together; and, in many of the places in India, they then suddenly turned upon their English officers, and shot them down on their parade ground, and then they went to the houses and killed every white woman and child they could meet with. Some few had very wonderful escapes, and were treated kindly by native friends; and many showed great bravery and piety in their troubles. After that the Sepoys marched away to the city of Delhi, where an old man lived who had once been king, and they set him up to be king, while every English person left in the city was murdered.
The English regiments in India made haste to come into Bengal, to try to save their country-folk who had shut themselves up in the towns or strong places, and were being besieged there by the Sepoys. A great many were in barracks in Cawnpore. It was not a strong place, and only had a mud wall round; but there was a native prince called the Nana Sahib, who had always seemed a friend to the officers—had gone out hunting with them, and invited them to his house. They thought themselves safe near him; but, to their horror, he forgot all this, and joined the Sepoys. The cannon were turned against them, and the Sepoys watched all day the barrack yard where they were shut in, and shot everyone who went for water. At last, after more pain and misery than we can bear to think of, they gave themselves up to the Nana, and horrible to tell, he killed them all. The men were shot the first day, and the women and little children were then shut up in a house, where they were kept for a night. Then the Nana heard that the English army was coming, and in his fright and rage he sent in his men, who killed everyone of them, and threw their bodies into a deep well. The English came up the next day, and were nearly mad with grief and anger. They could not lay hands on the Nana, but they punished all the people he employed; and they were so furious that they hardly showed any mercy to another Sepoy after that dreadful sight.
There were some more English holding out in the city of Lucknow, and they longed to go to their relief; but first Delhi, where the old king was, had to be taken; and, as it was a very strong place, it was a long time before it was conquered; but at last the gates of the city were blown up by three brave men, and the whole army made their way in. More troops had been sent out from England to help their comrades, and they were able at last to march to Lucknow. There, week after week, the English soldiers, men of business, ladies, soldier's wives, and little children, had bravely waited, with the enemy round, and shot so often coming through the buildings that they had chiefly to live in the cellars; and the food was so scanty and bad, that the sickly people and the little babies mostly died; and no one seemed able to get well if once he was wounded. Help came at last. The brave Sir Colin Campbell, who had been sent out from home, brought the army to their rescue, and they were saved. The Sepoys were beaten in every fight; and at last the terrible time of the mutiny was over, and India quiet again.
In 1860, the queen and all the nation had a grievous loss in the death of the good Prince Consort, Albert, who died of a fever at Windsor Castle, and was mourned for by everyone, as if he had been a relation or friend. He left nine children, of whom the eldest, Victoria, the Princess Royal, was married to the Prince of Prussia. He had done everything to help forward improvements; and the country only found out how wise and good he was after he was taken away.
Pains began to be taken to make the great towns healthier. It is true that the plague has never come to England since the reign of Charles II., but those sad diseases, cholera and typhus fever, come where people will not attend to cleanliness. The first time the cholera came was in the year 1833, under William IV.; and that was the last time of all, because it was a new disease, and the doctors did not know what to do to cure it. But now they understand it much better—both how to treat, and, what is better, how to keep it away; and that is by keeping everything sweet and clean.