The brutality of the British Empire

A recent review by William Dalrymple of ‘The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny and Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905’ by Ferdinand Mount brought back memories about what I had been told a lifetime ago about the brutality of European colonialism.

Dalrymple quotes the author in the following 2 paragraphs.

“The British Empire in India was the creation of merchants and it was still at heart at least a commercial enterprise, which had to operate at profit and respond to the ups and downs of the market. Behind the epaulettes and the jingle of harness, the levees and balls at Government House, lay the hard calculus of the City of London.”

“Theo erected a gallows in the grounds of Metcalfe’s house made out of the blackened timbers of his beloved home … Refugees sheltering in mosques would be plucked out and executed.”

The rest of this post are relevant extracts from Dalrymple’s review.

“ … we witness the power of the East India Company growing with speed, as it despatched its different Asian enemies one by one, its tentacles reaching across the globe, until it became by the end of the 18th century a major international player in its own right.

To the East it ferried opium to China, fighting the opium wars to seize an offshore base at Hong Kong and safeguard its profitable monopoly in narcotics.” … …

“Indians are often ‘natives,’ people who have the temerity to oppose the British are ‘the enemy,’ unless they are the Marathas, in which case they are, in addition, ‘fierce little warriors’ whose rajahs are often ‘ghastly characters’ or ‘remarkably nasty pieces of work,’ who indulge in ‘treachery, murder, especially fratricide, slaphappy extravagance and debauchery, only tempered by equally extravagant religious observances.’ Their attempts at unified action ‘bore less resemblance to a confederacy than they did to a sack of rabid ferrets.’… …
“ … At the end of the Vellore Mutiny, 300 mutinous sepoys who surrendered were hustled into a fives court where they were tied together and gunned down at a range of less than 30m.” … …

“The violent climax came with the Great Uprising of 1857, when the company found itself threatened by the largest and bloodiest anti-colonial revolt against any European empire anywhere in the world in the entire course of the 19th century. Of the 139,000 sepoys of the Bengal army, all but 7796 turned against their British masters. In many places the sepoys were supported by widespread civilian rebellion. Atrocities abounded on both sides, but the British crushed the uprising with a particularly merciless severity.” … …

“ … In one neighbourhood alone, Kucha Chelan, 1400 unarmed civilians were cut down. ‘The orders went out to shoot every soul,’ recorded one young officer. ‘It was literally murder.’ Delhi, a bustling and sophisticated city of half a million souls, was left an empty ruin.”

“ … in the final analysis, the empire was built by the sword and erected over the dead bodies of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Indian subjects.”

I am also reminded of Nehru’s report (read his ‘Glimpses of World History’) that in each of a number of massive famines in that period, about 20 million Indians starved to death. Presumably the Company’s finances were not affected.

One can only wonder if the Law of Cosmic Justice had an influence in Britain’s current unfortunate position as the USA’s Deputy Sheriff for Europe. Did not Roosevelt reportedly say, at the end of World War Two, ‘Now we own the b……s’?