The fort of Vellore, situated in the present-day state of Tamil Nadu, was built by the Vijayanagara rulers in the 16th century CE. It was where the Indian military garrison of Madras was stationed during the 19th century, under the rule of the British. It became the site of the famous Vellore mutiny of 1806 CE which preceded the Revolt of 1857 by about 50 years. While the latter is often called the “First War of Independence” by historians, this mutiny in its own right was instrumental in inspiring a spirit of resistance against the oppressive rule of the British.
The Vellore fort was under the command of Colonel St. John Fancourt when the conditions preceding the mutiny started to develop. In the year 1805 CE, a new dress code was sanctioned for the sepoys whereby they were not allowed to show any caste markings, had to trim their beards and moustaches, and remove their turbans. This was intended to “improve” the “soldierly appearance” of the regiment. However, it hurt the sentiments of both the Hindu and the Muslim soldiers who comprised the army and caused widespread resentment. General Sir John Craddock, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, also ordered a new round hat be worn which was rumored to be made from cow and pig hides. Some protestors who raised their voices against these changes were sent from the fort of Vellore to Fort St. George and others were given 90 lashes each. These unfair and offensive changes coupled with the brutal treatment meted out to any voice of dissent within the fort led to the Vellore mutiny.
On the 10th of July, 1806 CE, a field-day was scheduled for the Madras garrison and the soldiers were asked to sleep within the fort on the previous night. Two hours after midnight, they woke up, killed the commander of the fort and raided the munitions depot which left them in control of this formidable fort. Further, they also killed about 15 of their own officers and over a 100 other British soldiers who slept in the barracks inside the fort. The British had hoisted the Union Jack, the flag of England in the Vellore fort which symbolised their rule over the region. In an incredibly fierce gesture, this flag was brought down and replaced by the Royal Tiger flag of Tipu Sultan as the sepoys proclaimed his second son as their king.
As the sepoys rose in revolt, a British officer, Major Coopes, escaped and alerted the garrison in Arcot. They arrived within 9 hours to find some Europeans still holding a part of the ramparts. They quickly attempted to recapture the fort. In an appalling incident, about 100 soldiers who sought refuge within the fort were put up against a wall and shot in a “summary judgement”. This brutality sent shock waves to England and in the aftermath of the mutiny, the new regulations were withdrawn and all the regiments of the Vellore region disbanded.
The Vellore fort hosted one of the first battles against the injustice of the British and provided fertile ground for the early seeds of dissent to grow. The revolt, that involved 800 revolutionaries, shook the British authority to their core. With its rich history, this fort thus offers an insight into the making of Our nation