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:
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. )
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Jim, you are absolutely correct here.
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