Captain Melville Clarke
Melville Clarke, the son of Thomas Robert Clark of the H.E.I.Co’s Home
Service, and Charlotte, his wife, was born at St Paul’s Terrace on 15 December
1834, and was educated at Charterhouse. He was nominated a Cadet for the
Bengal Cavalry by John Masterman, M.P., on the recommendation of his father,
and was appointed Cornet in the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry on 28 July 1852. He
landed at Calcutta on 3 December 1852, and, on 15 January 1853, transferred
at his own request to the 3rd Light Cavalry, in which he was promoted Lieutenant
on 28 September 1854. While commanding the 5th Troop at Meerut in January
1857, he was appointed to assume the duties of Acting Adjutant.

Early on the morning of Thursday, 23 April 1857, the regiment’s commanding
officer, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel G. M. Carmichael-Smyth, arrived back from
short leave at Mussoorie. He had already heard of the disturbances at the
Musketry Depot at Ambala following the issue of the new and controversial
cartridges, but nevertheless decided to hold a firing parade of the skirmishers
of his regiment and put them through a drill whereby the men would tear off the
ends of the cartridges rather than bite them. This, he misguidedly thought, would
cure the men’s uneasiness. Some junior officers of the regiment were strongly
opposed to such a provocative move by the Colonel whom it was thought simply
wanted to test the men’s reaction.
The ninety skirmishers, meanwhile, having learnt that they were to be the first to use the cartridges took a solemn oath
that they would have nothing to do with them unless every other regiment agreed to handle them. Later that day, Captain
Henry Craigie, the well-beloved and sympathetic commander of the 4th Troop, was approached by his Native Officers
who represented to him the fears of the men. He was told that if they were forced to touch the contaminated cartridges,
they would lose caste and not be able to return to their homes.
Craigie, already aware of the gravity of the situation, wrote an urgent note that evening to his friend, Melville Clarke,
the Acting Adjutant. This note subsequently became well-known and ultimately appeared in Parliamentary Papers. It
read:

‘1. Go at once to Smyth and tell him that the men of my troop have requested in a body that the skirmishing tomorrow
may be countermanded, as there is a commotion throughout the native troops about the cartridges, and that the
regiment will become budnam if they fire any cartridges. I understand that in all six troops a report of the same kind
is being made. This is a most serious matter, and we may have the whole regiment in mutiny in half an hour if this is not
attended to. Pray do not lose a moment but go to Smyth at once.

2. We have none of the objectionable cartridges, but the men say that if they fire any kind of cartridge at present
they lay themselves open to the imputation from their comrades and from other regiments of having fired the
objectionable ones.’

According to the account of a newly joined Cornet, John MacNabb, Carmichael-Smyth then asked Clarke what he
advised, whereupon Clarke, whom MacNabb considered ‘always severe with the men’, said that if the parade were to
be cancelled ‘it would be like being afraid of them’. Next morning, therefore, the skirmishers of the 3rd Light Cavalry
were marched on to their parade ground. Melville Clarke ordered them to take three blank cartridges each. They
refused. The Havildar-Major was then ordered to demonstrate the drill, which he did, before Carmichael-Smyth
ordered the cartridges to be served out. The first man to be offered one refused, saying that the Havildar-Major
had only touched the offensive cartridges because of his position, but added that “If all the men will take the
cartridges, I will.” The next man likewise refused, and said he would only accept the cartridges if every other
regiment did so. At length all but three Muslim and two Hindu N.C.O’s refused to take the cartridges. The N.C.O’s
were then dismissed while the eighty-five Sowars were taken off duty and confined to their lines.

Next day, Saturday, the 25th, a court of inquiry consisting of seven Native Officers was convened with a
superintending British officer and another interpreting. On receiving the findings of the court, the Judge
Advocate-General recommended a court-martial of all eighty-five Sowars. The decision was approved by the
Commander-in-Chief, the Hon. George Anson, and at the subsequent trial the accused were voted by all but one
of the fifteen Native Officers, who comprised the court, to be convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for ten
years with hard labour. A plea for mercy was summarily thrown out by the commander of the Meerut Division,
Major-General W. H. Hewitt.

On Saturday, 9 May 1857, the entire Meerut garrison - 3rd Light Cavalry, 11th and 20th Bengal Native Infantry,
1st Battalion, H.M’s 60th Rifles, H.M’s 6th Dragoon Guards, a troop of horse artillery, a company of foot artillery
and a light field battery - were turned out on the European parade ground and were drawn up to form three sides
of a square. The fourth side was composed of the convicted men. The 1700 British troops were all armed with guns
and rifles loaded. The sentences were read out, the prisoners ceremoniously stripped of their unforms and their
boots removed so as to fetter their ankles in shackles. Some prisoners accepted the sentences quietly but others
swore violently at the Europeans and threw their boots at Carmichael-Smyth as they were marched off under a
guard of the 60th Rifles to the New Gaol. While the episode satisfied Carmichael-Smyth but failed to wholly please
Hewitt, who had hoped that the eighty-five men might have been sentenced to death as an example, many other
Europeans were appalled by the harshness of the punishment and felt that the humiliation of being fettered like
common criminals was entirely unwarranted. Indeed, Anson expressed his regret that such a procedure had been
considered advisable.

That evening a Native Officer called on Hugh Gough of the 3rd Light Cavalry on the pretence of wishing to discuss
his troop’s accounts. His real purpose, however, was to warn Gough that the native troops intended to mutiny next
day. Gough alerted Carmichael-Smyth but the Colonel refused to listen. Sunday dawned and after an early church
service the Europeans retreated indoors, as was customary during the hot weather. The day passed without incident,
and owing to the stifling heat, evensong was put back by half an hour from its usual time of half past six. Shortly
before six fire broke out in the lines of the 20th N.I. Several officers of that corps immediately set off to see
what the trouble was and to remonstrate with their men. In the lines, about seventy badmashes (ruffians from the
bazaar) were urging the Sepoys to seize arms from the regimental magazine and mutiny. A Sowar of the 3rd Light
Cavalry galloped up and told them that several officers were on their way and if they were to act they must do so
without delay. The Sepoys of the 20th, now beyond control, grabbed their arms and, egged on by the badmashes,
opened fire in all directions. Colonel Finnis of the 11th N.I. appeared and attempted to calm the situation. His horse
was killed and then he too was shot dead by the mob. The 11th then joined the 20th in uproar, and the British
officers who had by now arrived decided discretion was the better part of valour and ran for their lives. Meanwhile
Carmichael-Smyth, who had been entertaining Surgeon-Major Christie and Veterinary-Surgeon Philips to dinner, was
informed of the rioting in the 20th N.I. lines by Major Harriot, the Deputy Judge Advocate-General. Shortly after
Harriot and the Colonel’s guests had driven away, Major Fairlie of the 3rd, who was Officer of the Day, arrived with
Melville Clarke. As yet the 3rd Light Cavalry had not mutined and Carmichael-Smyth ordered the two officers to
go down to the regiment’s lines and tell the men to stand by their horses. Carmichael-Smyth was Field Officer of the
Week and accordingly he went off to join Hewitt and Brigadier Archdale Wilson, the Meerut station commander, and
never attempted to go near his own regiment. This no doubt was a source of relief to Clarke and Fairlie who probably
thought his presence would only inflame the situation.

By the time Clarke and Fairlie got down to the cavalry lines, some fifty Sowars had already set off to release the
skirmishers incarcerated in the New Gaol on the other side of city, but a substantial number of the Sowars, were
still uncertain as to whether or not they would join the rebellion. Most of the officers of the regiment were now
present on the parade ground, and there was a good deal of careering around in a wild fashion. Captain Craigie, a good
linguist and much respected by the men then appeared and persuaded forty or fifty Sowars to go with him and
prevent the prisoners being released from the New Gaol. The party set off going round the north of the city with
Craigie, Melville Clarke and Lieutenant A. R. D. Mackenzie in the lead. At one point they met a palki-gari containing a
dead European woman with a Sowar running alongside and slashing the body. Craigie and Clark rode down the
murderer and despatched him. Next Mackenzie was swept from his saddle by a cut telegraph wire lying across the
road. Though ridden over, he recovered his horse and caught up with Craigie and Clarke outside the Gaol from which
the skirmishers had already been released. The area was in uproar, the prisoners were being unfettered by local
smiths, badmashes and rebellious villagers from the outlying country were embarking on an orgy of murder, arson and
plunder. The mutineers of the 3rd Cavalry, declining to offer violence to their own officers, dug in their spurs and set
off towards Delhi some forty miles distant. Thereafter, they fought ruthlessly on the rebel side, and were last heard
of going into action as a collective unit on 9 June when they crossed swords with the Guides Cavalry.

Clarke’s movements after leaving the Gaol are unclear. His wife and infant son were most likely away in the hills, and
it is probable that he rejoined Carmichael-Smyth, Hewitt and Wilson, who had assembled all the European troops on
the 60th Rifles’ parade ground, and uselessly kept them there ‘in case of attack’, despite the pleas of Colonel Jones
of the 60th, Rosser of the Carabineers and Tombs of the Artillery. Moreover, by holding the Queen’s troops at
Meerut, Hewitt was responsible for the loss of Delhi.

After the outbreak, Clarke served with a Police regiment, into which a number of loyal Sowars of the 3rd, remaining
‘true to their salt’, followed him. In December 1857, he was appointed Adjutant of the Police Depot in the Western
Provinces of Bengal, and in March 1858 became Captain. He then transferred to the newly raised 1st Bengal European
Light Cavalry, but continued to serve with the Police, becoming second-in-command of his battalion in April. He
returned to England on sick certificate in 1860, and the following year when members of the H.E.I.Co’s forces were
given the option of discharge or transfer to the British Army, Clarke chose to remain with his nominal regiment
which subsequently became the 19th Hussars.   Melville Clarke disappears from the Army List in 1871.

Refs: IOL L/MIL/9/227; IOL L/MIL/10/54, 56, 59, 61, 65, 67; Army Lists; Palmer: The Mutiny Outbreak at
Meerut in 1857.
1st European Light Cavalry
(formerly Adjutant 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry)