People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 07

February 18, 2007

Ernest Jones On The Revolt of 1857


‘The British Empire on which the sun never sets;
On its colonies, the sun never sets, but the blood never dries’
--Ernest Jones


ERNEST JONES (1819-1869) was a prominent British radical activist and writer. He was associated with the working class movement in Britain, was in touch with and influenced by Marx, and was one of the leading organizers of the Chartist movement of the 1830s and 1840s. The Chartist movement was a powerful struggle for democratic rights, particularly for the extension of voting rights to the working class and the urban poor. This struggle reached its peak in 1848. In 1848 Jones was imprisoned for two years on the charge of sedition because he had delivered a speech in London in which he had given a call for a more militant struggle. He was kept in solitary confinement throughout his sentence. While in prison he composed his famous epic ‘The Revolt of Hindostan’ (published in 1851; reissued at the time of the revolt). Jones wrote the poem on prison prayer books with his own blood. During the 1850s he brought out a newspaper, People’s Paper, in which he published a series of articles on the revolt of 1857. The full text of one of these articles ‘The Indian Struggle’, published in the 5 September 1857 issue of People’s Paper, is reproduced below. We are also reproducing extracts from an essay by James Bryne on Jones’s writings on the revolt (Bryne’s essay was published in P.C. Joshi ed., Rebellion 1857, New Delhi, 1957). It needs to be clarified that Jones uses the word ‘Hindu/Hindhu’ as a term for ‘Indian’. 



James Bryne


Ernest Jones had long been interested in India. He had written a series of newspaper articles in 1853. Jones was now almost alone in carrying on the militant tradition of the Chartists. Soon he would himself give up the struggle. His last fight—for the people of India—was a magnificent climax to his revolutionary career.


On July 4 (1857) Jones opened his campaign. ‘A policy of justice and conciliation might have long postponed the final rising of the men of Hindostan’, he declared, and he warned: ‘… You working men of England will be called on to bleed and pay for the maintenance of one of the most iniquitous usurpations that ever disgraced the annals of humanity. Englishmen! The Hindus [i.e. Indians] are now fighting for all most sacred to men. The cause of the Poles, the Hungarians, the Italians, the Irish, was not more just and holy … you men of England will be called on to spend your blood and treasure in crushing one of the noblest movements the world has ever known … Fellow countrymen! You have something better to do than helping to crush the liberties of others—that is, to struggle for your own’.


On August 1, Jones wrote that ‘The revolt turns out to be, as we assured our readers from the commencement, not a military mutiny but a national insurrection’, and he wrote hopefully that it appeared to show signs of careful preparation. He further stated, ‘Of one thing we are certain—that whether this insurrection be suppressed or not, it is the precursor to our loss of India … Our advice is … recognize the independence of the Indian race … One hundred years [ago] … a foreign tribe, the pedlars of the earth, the merchant-robbers of Leadenhall Street [the headquarters of the East India Company were located in Leadenhall Street in London], stole on a false pretence into the heart of this mighty galaxy of empires and robbed it of its jewel—independence …. Within that reign of 100 years a millennium of guilt has been compressed’. He warned against the plan to ‘cast all blame’ of Indian misrule on the East India Company: ‘To abolish the Company and substitute the Home Government is but substituting one plunderer for another’. He declared again that ‘The Hindu cause is just—the Hindu cause is noble … God save the Hindu cause’.
On August 29, Jones made another survey of the military position. He was still hoping the revolt might be successful. Subsequently on September 12 he made gloomy forecasts of the commercial outlook due to the revolt: ‘The expenses of putting down the Revolt would come from taxes—from the pockets of the English working classes’. He asked, ‘Have the English working classes an interest in the payment of that money? Have they ever gained one iota of our Indian rule? Not they. Then who have been the gainers? The aristocrats and plutocrats—the landlords and the moneylords—the young scions of the aristocracy who there learnt in the school of cruelty and lust of rapine and extortion. … Have we not impoverished India since it belonged to England, ruined it, beggar’d it?’


On December 5 he tried to persuade his readers that they need not despair of the Indian cause, but his hopes of a successful blow against British imperialism were now beginning to fade. His references to the revolt became less frequent. On May 1, he declared that ‘India is lost to England’ whatever the result of the revolt, and on May 8, he wrote ‘[Indians] remember that we tore them from possession of their land; they remember that a nation of freeholders had the soil confiscated and were forced to rent from us what had been theirs in fee simple from immemorial time. They remember that their lands were taxed, beyond the power of payment; that then they were forced to mortgage their implements of husbandry; again to dispose of their seed corn, and thus made beggars, to pay the dues exacted by the British Government. They remember that then, when agriculture became impossible they sought to relinquish their farms, because they were unable to cultivate them, but were actually compelled to pay taxes for the land they never tilled. When unable to borrow the amount from friends, they remember how they were tortured—how they were hung by the soles of their feet in the burning heat of day; or by the hair of the head with stones attached to their legs; how wedges of sharp wood were forced up their nails—how father and son were tied together and lashed at the same time, that the sufferings of the one might aggravate the pain of the other; how the women were flogged—how scorpions were tied to the breasts of the latter, and red chilly forced into their eyes’. On July 19 he repeated his contention that the ‘entire people is against us’.


The cause was not lost, only temporarily defeated. The British working class was to pass through a period of collaboration with its masters, picking up the crumbs which fell from their well-laden tables as they exploited half the world: the Indian people were to pass through nearly one more century of foreign rule before obtaining independence. It is worth recalling in this 150th anniversary year of the revolt that the voice of the British working class was not silent in the hour of agony and defeat. 




Ernest Jones


(The People's Paper, 5 September 1857)


THERE ought to be but one opinion throughout Europe on the Revolt of Hindostan. It is one of the most just, noble, and necessary ever attempted in the history of the world. We recently analysed and exposed the nature of England’s Indian rule. We this week, in another column, give an episode referring to Oude, and illustrating the nefarious, the infamous, the inexpressible infamous conduct, of British domination. How any can hesitate which side to take, is inconceivable to us. England—the people, the English people—sympathise with liberty. On which side were they when Poland struggled for its freedom against Russia? On the side of Poland. On which side were they, when Hungary struggled for its rights with Austria? On the side of Hungary. On which side are they when Italy struggles for its life against the Germans, the French, the Papist, and the despot? On the side of Italy. Was Poland right? Then so is Hindostan. Was Hungary justified? Then so is Hindostan. Was Italy deserving of support? Then so is Hindostan. For all that Poland, Hungary, or Italy sought to gain, for that the Hindhu strives. Nay! more. The Pole, the Hungarian, the Italian still own their soil. The Hindhu does not. The former have rulers of their own, or a kindred faith, above them. The Hindhu has not. The former are still ruled by something like law, and by servants responsible to their masters. The Hindhu is not. Naples and France, Lombardy and Poland, Hungary and Rome present no tyranny so hideous as that enacted by the miscreants of Leadenhall Street, and Whitehall, in Hindostan. The wonder is, not that one hundred and seventy millions of people should now rise in part;—the wonder is that they should ever have submitted at all. They would not, had they not been betrayed by their own princes, who sold each other to the alien, and the base truckling invader, that with his foul help they might cut each other’s throats. Thus kings, princes, and aristocracies have ever proven the enemies and curses of every land that harboured them, in every age.


We bespeak the sympathy of the English people for their Hindhu brethren. Their cause is yours—their success is, indirectly, yours as well. The fearful atrocities committed have nothing to do with the great cause at issue—that cause is just, it is holy, it is glorious. Englishmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen, what would you say if a colony of Dutch Jews came hither and asked permission to build a factory on Woolwich March; if, after having gained that permission on promise of paying a yearly rental for the land, they intrigued with the French or Russians to let them into the country; if after that they promised to help you against the invader, in exchange for half of Kent; if, after having received the land, they betrayed both sides and sold you to the Yankees for a slice of Surrey; if, after eternal peace had been sworn to between all the contending parties, they set them all by the ears; and in the midst of the inextricable confusion they went on invading, conquering on their own account; if, being Protestants, they denounced and punished Protestantism to conciliate the Papists; if, again, they destroy Papists to conciliate Protestants; if, when weak and in danger, they swore to solemn treaties, on the faith in which you spared them when in your power; and if they thus, having gained time for strength and Power, rushed upon you, unawares, sacked and burned your cities, outraged your women, and murdered your population, and thus, in the hour of your surprise, dismay, and weakness, subjugated you and your country—what would you say and do? If, still further, having thus enthralled you, they confiscated every acre of your own land; if, having thus confiscated it, they made you pay a rental for what had been your own freehold farms; if they then burdened those farms with such taxation, that the produce could not realise one-half of the amount; if, you being unable to pay, they seized your cattle, your farm implements, your very seed corn; if, having thus stopped your means of production, they next year demanded the same rental and the same tax; if, because you could not pay it, they hung you with your heads downwards in the burning sun, lashed you, tortured you, tied scorpions to the breasts of your women, committed every atrocity and crime—what, we repeat, would you say and do? You would rise—rise in the holy right of insurrection, and cry to Europe and the world, to Heaven and earth, to bear witness to the justice of your cause.


Fellow-countrymen! thus have the Hindhus been treated at the hands of England; this is the cause of their insurrection, and every honest man throughout the world can pass but one judgement on the facts, and breathe but one aspiration for the issue. 


Azamgarh Proclamation of Rebels


[In the volatile context of the 1857 Rebellion, there were many proclamations that circulated. The effort was to exhort the people to join the Rebellion. The one we reproduce below is the famous Azamgarh Proclamation, supposedly an appeal from the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The most significant aspect of this is the way it appeals to different classes of people, based on a set of clearly articulated economic grievances. Source: Foreign Political Consultation, No. 197, dated October 8, 1858, National Archives India, New Delhi]


It is well known that the British assess lands very highly and this has been the cause of your ruin. Besides, when sued by mean labourer, or a male or female servant, you are summoned without investigation to attend the Court and are thus dishonoured and degraded, and when you have to persecute a case in their Court you are put to expense of doing so on stamp paper and have to pay a percentage for roads and schools. You are also aware that the faithless British have appropriated to themselves the monopoly of all lucrative trade such as indigo, opium, cloth, etc. and left the less remunerative merchandise to you and when you have to resort to their Courts you have to pay large sums for stamp papers and Court fees. Moreover, they realise money from the public in the shape of postage and school funds and you like the zamindars are degraded by being summoned to their Courts and imprisoned or fined on the assertion of mean and low people. The officials could not but be aware that in the Civil and Military Department all the less lucrative and dignified situation are given to the natives, and the well paid and honourable one to Europeans. For instance, the Military Line, the highest post that a native attains is that of a subadar on a salary of Rs. 60 or 70 a month, and in the Civil that of a subadar on a salary of 500/- rupees and jagheers, rewards, maafees, etc. are not known to be in existence. The artisans doubtless know that the Europeans import every sort of article from Europe leaving but a small trade in our hands. Scholars of both creeds of Hindus and Musulmans (Maulvi and Pundit) should not forget that the British are opposed to your religion. You should join us and gain the good will of your Creator, otherwise you would be considered sinners.