Edinburgh Castle sign hailing 'hero' British soldiers will be replaced

Edinburgh Castle sign hailing ‘hero’ British soldiers who fought in the 1857 Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny will be replaced after junior doctor, 26, complained it ‘pandered to imperialism’ 

  • Junior Doctor Vivek Majumder, 26, ‘infuriated’ during a trip to Edinburgh Castle
  • He said a sign next to the India Cross was ‘too celebratory of the British’
  • Bosses at Historic Environment Scotland will replace sign with a neutral view
  • Dr Majumder said the sign claimed Lucknow had been ‘relieved’ in 1857 

Edinburgh Castle has revealed it will replace a sign calling British soldiers who fought in the Indian Rebellion ‘heroes’ – after a visitor blasted it for ‘pandering to imperialism’.

Junior doctor Vivek Majumder, 26, was ‘infuriated’ when he saw a ‘distasteful’ sign claiming Lucknow had been ‘relieved’ following a siege in India in 1857.

Bosses at the tourist attraction said an historian is currently working on replacing the sign with something more ‘accurate and balanced’. 

The sign, next to the India Cross on the castle’s esplanade, was ‘too celebratory of the British and dismissive of the Indian forces’, according to Dr Majumder.

Dr Majumder, from Marchmont in Edinburgh, said: ‘The description of the battle wasn’t inaccurate, it was more how the belligerents were presented I took issue with.

Junior doctor Vivek Majumder, 26, was ‘infuriated’ when he saw a ‘distasteful’ sign (pictured) claiming Lucknow had been ‘relieved’ following a siege in India in 1857

‘In my eyes it was blatant pandering to imperialism.

‘It was not the first time I had seen distasteful imperialistic things in Scottish public spaces, but this was the first that painted the British as ‘Heroes’ and that Lucknow was ‘relieved’.’

The Siege of Lucknow followed a mutiny of most of the 100,000 soldiers in the British East India Company’s Bengal Army, stationed in North India, in 1857.

Sir Henry Lawrence, the East India Company’s Commissioner in Lucknow ordered his garrison to retreat into the British residency in the city.

The soldiers survived for six months before they were finally reached by a force including the 93rd Highlanders, under the command of Scottish general Sir Colin Campbell.

After reading the sign, British Indian Dr Majumder said he was initially shocked, then ‘infuriated’. Just a week after he emailed Historic Environment Scotland, who are responsible for the sign, officials accepted his criticism and promised to change it.

The sign, next to the India Cross (pictured) on the castle’s esplanade, was ‘too celebratory of the British and dismissive of the Indian forces’, according to Dr Majumder

British Soldiers Were Seen Fighting Their Way Through The Streets’ (1908), from ‘Our Empire Story,’ by HE Marshall around 1920

Edinburgh Castle (pictured) is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its position on the Castle Rock

Dr Majumder said: ‘I don’t think Britain’s past should be forgotten, nor its attitudes in the past. There’s an 8ft stone celtic cross there that needs explaining.

‘But I think this is a step in the right direction in how we should explain the past and examine it from a neutral light.’

Dr Crispin Bates, Professor of South Asian History at the University of Edinburgh, said although Britons saw the event as a ‘great victory’, Indians viewed it as The First National Indian War of Independence.

He added: ‘The crushing of the uprising was seen in Britain as a great victory of British civilisation over violent and barbaric Asiatics.

‘Unsurprisingly, Indians see these events very differently. In 1910, Indian nationalist V.D. Savarkar called it “The First National Indian War of Independence”.

Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, British soldier and statesman in India, with a picture of his family. By July 2, 1857, Sir Henry Lawrence had been mortally wounded. A shell had burst in his room at the Residency and he had a wound in his hip. He died two days later

‘Many continue to use this term, seeing in the events of 1857 as an occasion when peoples of all classes and faiths in North India came together to fight successfully for freedom.

‘The 150th anniversary of the Uprising in 2007 was a major occasion for national commemoration.’

A spokesman for HES said the sign would be updated to include a ‘fuller context’, including from the Indian perspecitve.

They added: ‘We agree the use of the contemporary British description of the regiment as the “Heroes of Lucknow” lacked qualification in the context of the siege and the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

‘A fuller context of the siege, including from an Indian perspective, is critical for our visitors to better understand this event and why it led to the erection of the India Cross on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle.

‘As such, one of our historians is currently undertaking research into the siege and the Rebellion of 1857 to ensure the new content on an updated panel, is accurate and balanced.’ 

The Siege of Lucknow: Dramatic chapter in history of the Raj that held Victorian England agog

The Siege of Lucknow began on May 25, 1857, when the woman and children in the Indian city were ordered into the Residency, the area’s chief fortress.

The Indian Mutiny had begun 15 days before, on May 10 when Indian soldiers, known as Sepoys, protested the new Enfield Rifle. To use the gun soldiers had to bite off the end of a cartridge before loading a shot into the rifle, but the cartridge was rumoured to be lubricated with the fat of both cow, which was sacred to Hindus, and pork, sacred to Muslims, and neither group could put the fat of the animals into their mouths without going against their religions.

There is no evidence the cartridges were actually lubricated with animal fat.  

The evening before the mutiny began 85 Sepoys were sentenced to between five and ten years in prison for refusing to use the rifles. The next afternoon the Sepoys were broken out of jail and a mob descended on the British, massacring them.

The British Residency in Lucknow, India, 1858. The Residency was the centre of the first Siege of Lucknow and the scene of the death of British military commander Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence

There had already been a growing frustration with British rule leading up to the release of the new rifles, as Indians felt their traditions and religion were being undermined. The rifles were a tipping point. 

In the 19th Century the British replaced the Indian aristocracy with British officials. A popular tactic was the doctrine of lapse, when a Hindu ruler without a natural heir would be prohibited from announcing a successor. Their land would then be annexed after their death or abdication. 

Missionaries were also challenging the religious beliefs of the Hindus.

In March 1857 a sepoy called Mangal Pandey attacked British officers at the military garrison in Barrackpore. He was arrested and then executed by the British in early April. 

The battle that broke out in the Bengal Army was known as the Indian Mutiny to the British, but the First War of Independence to Indians and continued for two years until the fall of Gwaliar on June 2, 1858.

After the first massacre, British civilians started to make their way to the Residency in Lucknow for protection. Sir Henry Lawrence, the British Commissioner, fortified the Residency and began stockpiling supplies in case of a siege.

Meanwhile, those who mutineed in Meerut marched to Delhi, where there were no European troops. There the local sepoy garrison joined the Meerut men, and by nightfall the aged pensionary Mughal emperor Bahādur Shah II had been nominally restored to power. 

The mutiny quickly spread to Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow, with mutineers commonly shooting their British officers before carrying out massacres in Delhi and Cawnpore – murdering women and children.

By July 2 Sir Henry Lawrence had been mortally wounded. A shell had burst in his room at the Residency and he had a wound in his hip. He died two days later.

Those inside survived on diminishing rations and diseases such as smallpox and scurvy were rife.

Damage caused by a mine to the Chattar Munzil, also spelled Chutter Munzil, during the siege of Lucknow

The first relief attempt came on September 25 when the 78th Highlanders, under the command of Major General Sir Henry Havelock, fought across rebel-held territory. 

By the time the army reached the Residency too many men had died and it was too risky to rescue those stuck inside. Instead, the men joined the garrison and improved defences.

On November 16, a much larger force led by Lieutenant General Sir Colin Campbell stormed a walled enclosure that blocked the way to the Residency.

They reached the Residency on November 19 and by November 27 those inside had been evactuated.  

Following the mutiny The East India Company was abolished in favour of the direct rule of India by the British government. 

Another significant result was the beginning of the policy of consultation with Indians. The Legislative Council of 1853 had contained only Europeans and behaved as if it were a fully-fledged parliament. 

Insensitive British-imposed social measures that affected Hindu society came to an abrupt end. 

Losses: British, 2,500 casualties of 8,000 troops; Indian, unknown number of casualties of some 30,000 rebels. 

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