The men slipped through the shadows like wraiths. The silent Bangalore Pete (pay-tay) offered no resistance at that late hour. A quick knock and then they were locked in a tight huddle. The plan was outlined in whispers by Hyder Ali Khan, a button-maker who called himself Nawab. It was simple but bold. At the stroke of midnight on the 28th of October, five hundred men would be let in through the Mysore Gate of the Bangalore Fort by Shaik Ismail, a Havildar of the 9th Madras Native Infantry. The password was “Tipoo Sahib.” Once in the arsenal, their task was to kill the European Guard on the magazine. The European Main Guard would meet with the same fate.The British officer-in-charge, Major-General T Hawker, would be killed in his quarters, the fort seized and arms distributed. The mutineers would then fire a gun from the ramparts and hoist a green flag to indicate victory.
Guns loaded with grapeshot would be trained on the barracks of the 62nd Foot and the 13th Light Dragoons (13th Hussars), made famous in Tennyson’s ` The Charge of the Light Brigade’. The Indian cavalry and artillery were to cut loose the horses and carry off the guns with their draught bullocks. Following this the wild Pindaris would rush in to complete the job and ensure that no Englishman in the Cantonment was left alive. Hearing the plan unfold, Syed Tipoo, a key conspirator, smiled. The struggle to free Bangalore of British presence had begun. The native Havildars and Sepoys in the room looked at each other, eyes shining in the lamplight. Syfut Ali Shah, a fakir and co-conspirator had guaranteed rich rewards and the vision of a place in paradise. This was their fifth and final meeting.
But the Mutiny was not to be. It was swiftly aborted even before a single shot was fired.
A `loyal’ sepoy of the 48th Native Infantry who pretended to join the rebellion, reported the plan to Major Inglis. By noon, over thirty conspirators were rounded up. It soon swelled to a hundred, both in the cavalry and artillery. Men who went by the name Khan were arrested instantly. Crucial evidence was found- a draft proclamation and parts of a handwritten fair copy in the home of Abbas Ali, another conspirator. Twenty five years before the rest of India exploded with rage in the Great Mutiny of 1857, Bangalore was where “Twenty-three native soldiers were brought before the Court of Inquiry, and some forty scamps from the bazaar.” [i] Ironically, Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, rose to haunt the British once again through their namesakes.
In the court martial that followed, Jemadar Emam Khan, 48th Regiment, Madras Infantry, and several other officers were lauded for supplying information. The report stated that the “Commander in Chief of the British Army praised the role of Naigue Nagpah, private Nutter Cawn of 48th regiment and private Mutra Prasad of the Horse Artillery who gave intelligence of the plot. The former two were promoted as Jemadar and the latter to the rank of Havildar with a donation of Rs. 500.” [ii] Jemadar Emam Khan was promoted to the post of Subedar.
The Native General Court Martial was held on 26th November, 1832. By virtue of a warrant from Lt. General Sir Robert William O’ Callaghan (1777-1840), Commander-in-chief, Madras Army, the key conspirators in the Bangalore Mutiny and `Syde’ Tipoo, Havildar and Drill Havildar, 9th N.I, Budderodeen, Private, 48th N.I, Shaikh Ismail, Havildar, 9th N.I, and Kullunder Baig, Private 8th L.C were sentenced to death. There was apparently, a `full confession’ but the truth however, still lies buried somewhere out there in the Pete.
On 24th December, 1832, five 12 pounders were loaded with a double charge and the garrison was arranged to form three sides of a square. The men walked to their deaths accompanied by a band playing the melancholic `Dead Man Saul’. According to Colonel Walter Campbell, “bodies were placed in contact with the muzzle, arms lashed to the wheels, legs secured by two tent pegs firmly driven into the ground.”[iii] Those to die by musketry knelt in a row on one side of the guns and a firing party was accorded to each man.
The parting between Syed Tipoo and his family was an emotional one. His wife and two young sons wept in his arms. When told of his sentence, he “shuddered slightly and remarked that he had expected death, but not in this form. To his family he said “Weep not for me. I am about to go on a long journey, but hope to see you soon.” [iv] That was all. Campbell says that Syed Tipoo, ` a grand looking fellow, upwards of six feet high and about the handsomest man in the Madras army, advanced with the air of a prince, dignified but not defiant.” [v] He stood tall, displaying no sign of weakness. The other prisoners were more demonstrative. They spat and cursed the British officers contemptuously. While the sentence was being read, one even shouted to get it over with because he was feeling cold! They were then blown to pieces in full view of the Pete.
The execution was carried out by the commanding officer of the Mysore division. Captain Doveton records that the “guns were bespattered with blood and brains, whilst the legs, and a portion of the trunks of some of the criminals were still attached to the stakes…the other parts having been scattered far and wide across the dusty plain.” The battered bodies were left out in the open as a grim reminder that they had intended, over five instances that year, to `seize the fort of Bangalore, to murder their European officers and to subvert the Company’s Government’.[vi] Tipoo’s head stayed intact and was recognised by everyone who passed the pile of mangled remains in the Pete. They said he was smiling.
A letter sent home to England by John Joseph Losh, Lieutenant Colonel, 42nd Madras Native Infantry, Military Auditor, Madras contains a description. “Six of the conspirators were tied to the mouths of cannons. The ghastly death took a long time… and the excessive heat of the day, the might of the arms and the sight of the mangled bodies covered by hordes of vultures and kites rendered the transaction anything but pleasant to the spectators.” [vii] Colonial accounts of the execution justify this as a fitting and logical punishment. The labels `barbaric’ or `savage’, used extensively for native rulers in a similar context, were not applied.
Continued…..read ” Password ” Tipu Sahib”-II here.