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India 1857. Beef/pig fat cartridge lube and the Sepoy Mutiny Login/Join 
Don't Panic
Picture of joel9507
posted
Side discussion from the thread in the Lounge about the new British 5-Pound note, which is produced with some beef tallow (fat) in the production process.

Let me populate this with the relevant posts to get a thread established here:


quote:
Originally posted by joel9507:
quote:
Originally posted by newtoSig765:
I'm disappointed, too. BoE could have cured their immigration problem if they used tallow derived from pork if they'd thought it through.

Back in the Empire days there was some conflict going on, and the BGs started a rumor that the British cartridges used pork tallow on the paper, hoping the indigenous troops employed by the British would refuse to use them. I guess they thought the indigenous troops were as stupid as today's vegans appear to be.

Wasn't a rumor - it was both beef and pork fat - and the cartridges had to be torn off in the teeth. How to piss off Muslim and Hindu at the same time..... That little flashpoint started the "Sepoy Rebellion"

From Wikipedia - Causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
quote:
The spark that led to a mutiny in several sepoy companies was the issue of new gunpowder cartridges for the Enfield rifle in February, 1857. British officers insisted that the new cartridges be used by both Muslim and Hindu soldiers, but the cartridges were made from cow and pig fat. Loading the Enfield required tearing open the greased cartridge with one's teeth. This insulted both Hindu and Muslim religious practices.

TBH, I am surprised at the idea of putting lube on the currency. You'd think they'd have to assume the lube would wear off during 5 years' handling (supposed design life) and have to design machines to handle non-lubed currency anyway.
 
Posts: 11128 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: October 15, 2007Report This Post
Don't Panic
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quote:
Originally posted by sigfreund:
Before the above post, I’d never read that the rumor about the cartridges in India being greased with pork and/or beef fat was true. That was the claim by Indian nationalists who wanted the British out, but it was never substantiated to my knowledge. The rumor was believed by troops who thought that the British were trying to “break their caste” (Hindus) or to “pollute” them (Muslims). As with many later conspiracy theories, though, the rationale for either motive was never explained. What would the British have achieved by such an act?
 
Posts: 11128 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: October 15, 2007Report This Post
Don't Panic
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quote:
Originally posted by joel9507:
quote:
Originally posted by sigfreund:
What would the British have achieved by such an act?

Two words.

Cheap lube.

Muzzle loader patches need lube. UK abounds in beef and pigs - cheapest fats around. Cartridges (ball plus premeasured powder, wrapped in paper) sped up loading and standardized loads, so using cartridges improved speed and what passed for accuracy in those days. The paper from the cartridge became the patch, and pre-lubing that sped things up further.

It was not done on purpose to irritate local sensibilities, but sometimes stiff upper lips get in the way of flexibility.

There was a lot going on there other than newfangled ammunition, of course.
 
Posts: 11128 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: October 15, 2007Report This Post
Don't Panic
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quote:
Originally posted by sigfreund:
Is that something you figured out on your own, or is it based on historical research?
I’m not being snide; it’s a serious question because it’s not a claim I’ve ever run across before.

The model 1853 Enfield musket that the British forces consisting of native personnel were issued in India used Minié type bullets that do not use lubed patches. The loading sequence for such rifles was to tear open the cartridge, pour in the powder, and then stuff the cartridge paper and bullet into the muzzle and ram it down the barrel with the rod. The paper served as a wad between the powder and bullet; it wasn’t a patch of the sort used in earlier rifles that used round balls surrounded by cloth or leather patches. Patched balls were necessary because the “give” in the patch permitted driving the ball into a rifled barrel; the invention of the Minié bullet negated the need for a patch because it was undersized until the base was expanded into the rifling by the detonation of the powder. The grease or wax on rifled musket cartridge paper would probably have helped soften the powder fouling, but it wasn’t essential.

The concerns of the native troops were due to what is always described in historical accounts as a “new” cartridge. I don’t know if the earlier issued rounds were not greased/waxed at all, or if the process was changed somehow to make them obviously different, but I suspect it was the former. Waxing the cartridge (which is how at least one author described the coating) would have made them more water resistant than plain paper cartridges, and although again I don’t know for certain, that may have been what the “new” process was.

To reiterate, I’ve read quite a lot about 19th century British military, including the Indian “mutiny,” and I’ve never run across the claim that the controversial cartridges were “new” because of a thoughtless cost-saving measure. Some British commanders went to great lengths to assure their native troops that the cartridges were not greased with prohibited animal substances, and some even went to the extreme of offering them the option of preparing their own rounds to ensure that they were “clean.”
 
Posts: 11128 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: October 15, 2007Report This Post
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As noted in the original thread, I don't take this as being snide - I'd characterize this is honest inquiry. And no, I'm not the originator (and I'm not the editor of the Wikipedia page, either. Wink )

I recall seeing this discussion from general military history readings over the years, and ran across it again doing research into making my own black-powder cartridges when I got my first flintlock muzzle-loader this Spring.

I can't speak to minie-ball patch usage (never shot anything that uses those) but I can say - after futzing with powderhorn and powder measure/funnel - that independently of needing a patch and/or lube, the advantages of cartridges in providing clear, packaged delivery of known charges of powder for a muzzle loader are obvious and compelling. And they may have used the beef/pig fat as a kind of cheap waterproofing. (Or maybe a Prime Minister's nephew had ranching interests? - hard to rule out venality in Ordnance decisions. )

I read a boatload of military history and went through a bunch of new-to-me sources getting up to speed on flintlocks, so it may be a while but I will see if I can get you some specific references.

In the meantime, would you have links to sources who write the beef/pig lube never happened? Something sensitive like triggering a rebellion might be subject to some post-event sanitization by colonial administrators. Wink
 
Posts: 11128 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: October 15, 2007Report This Post
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Flashman in the Great Game is the most recent book I (re)read about the sepoy mutiny, and because it’s fiction I won’t make any grand claims for it other than that the author, George MacDonald Fraser, researched the topics of all of his many books very carefully. In it the sort-of hero, Harry Flashman, spends time disguised as a Pathan (sp?) in a native regiment. As usual with those tales, he gets caught up in the mutiny and part of the story discusses the events leading up to it. The Flashman character states that the cartridges were waxed, not greased with animal fat. He also touches on the reactions of the British leadership to the rumors and objections and discusses other grievances that the Indian soldiers had such as disrespect by the British rank and file soldiers.

As I say, it’s a work of fiction, but I would be very surprised to learn that Fraser didn’t know what he was writing about.


Beyond that I’ll only offer my own opinion that the Wikipedia statement below* reads like it was written by a latter-day propagandist critical of British occupation and rule of India. The Indians, or at least the super wealthy rulers whom the British supplanted, had plenty of reason to object to the invasion and subjugation of their highly-fragmented subcontinent. That resentment is alive in India even today, but I have literally never seen anything that substantiated the cow/pig fat claim.

*“British officers insisted that the new cartridges be used by both Muslim and Hindu soldiers, but the cartridges were made from cow and pig fat.”

And to reiterate, there was absolutely no reason, IMO, for the British to have done something so provocative as to deliberately grease the cartridges with pig and beef fat. Most of the British officers who led the Indian units typically spent their entire careers there and although they held the racist, paternalistic attitudes of the day, they were still generally very concerned about their troops’ welfare and sensitive to their concerns. To cite just one example, one of the sources of friction between the Indian and British troops was that although British soldiers could be flogged, Indian troops could not be.




“Most men … can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it … would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions … which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their lives.”
— Leo Tolstoy
 
Posts: 36464 | Location: 10,150 Feet Above Sea Level in Colorado | Registered: April 04, 2002Report This Post
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I thought it was common knowledge that the cartridges were greased with Tallow. Tallow can have all kinds of animal fats in it including beef and pork (and it might not have one or the other). The cartridges were designed and made in the UK by the army and they didn't give any though to the religious sensitivities of the Indian Sepoys when designing it. Keep in mind that the Brtish Empire spanned the globe and the Indians were not the only soldiers using these cartridges.

They later changed it to Beeswax but it was too late and the mutiny was in full swing.

Then along came the Gurkhas (mostly Hindu). Having sworn fealty to the Brits, they insisted on using the tallow cartridge to demonstrate how they could keep to their oath.
They then helped the brits clean house.
 
Posts: 1878 | Registered: January 15, 2009Report This Post
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I have heard of the Sepoy Mutiny due to the Brits and their offensive lard and tallow lubricated cartridges. I have become cynical and conclude that the grease was an excuse, not a reason. If it hadn't been the ammo, it would have been something else that set the native troops off.

quote:
The loading sequence for such rifles was to tear open the cartridge, pour in the powder, and then stuff the cartridge paper and bullet into the muzzle and ram it down the barrel with the rod. The paper served as a wad between the powder and bullet;


I do not think one uses the cartridge paper to wad a "Minie ball." The various versions, French Minie, English Enfield, and US Burton, depend on the hollow based bullet (early versions with plug) expanding into the rifling. Seems a wad could upset the process. One video I found shows the shooter biting open the cartridge, dumping in powder, discarding the paper, and seating the bullet. But hey, it was a modern youtube and I am not sure of its historical accuracy. I will ask my reenactor bud.
 
Posts: 2548 | Location: Florence, Alabama, USA | Registered: July 05, 2001Report This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Jim Watson:
I have heard of the Sepoy Mutiny due to the Brits and their offensive lard and tallow lubricated cartridges. I have become cynical and conclude that the grease was an excuse, not a reason. If it hadn't been the ammo, it would have been something else that set the native troops off.



Jim, you are absolutely correct here.
 
Posts: 1878 | Registered: January 15, 2009Report This Post
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