[Το κείμενο που ακολουθεί πρωτοδημοσιεύτηκε στο οικογενειακό περιοδικό Household Words, συνιδιοκτήτης τού οποίου ήταν ο Τσαρλς Ντίκενς. Το κείμενο περιγράφει με «γλαφυρό» τρόπο τη θανάτωση δια κανονιοβολισμού τού εκπαιδευτή λοχία Syed Hoossein και τού στρατιώτη Mungul Guddrea κατ’ εκτέλεση τής απόφασης «Ευρωπαϊκού Γενικού Στρατοδικείου» που συγκλήθηκε στις 13/10/1857 στη Βομβάη και το οποίο έκρινε τους δυο κατηγορούμενους ένοχους για το έγκλημα τής στάσης και τής υπονόμευσης της εξουσίας τής Βρετανικής Κυβέρνησης. Η προοπτική τού κειμένου ευθυγραμμίζεται πλήρως με την προσωπική τοποθέτηση τού ίδιου τού Ντίκενς όσον αφορά την εξέγερση τού 1857: «Αχ και να ήμουν αρχιστράτηγος στην Ινδία … θα έκανα ό,τι περνούσε από το χέρι μου για να εξολοθρεύσω τη Φυλή που βαρύνεται με το άγος των πρόσφατων εγκλημάτων … να την εξοβελίσω από την ανθρωπότητα, να την εξαφανίσω από προσώπου γης» (Τσ. Ντίκενς, επιστολή προς Emile de la Rue , 23/10/1857).
 Πβ. «Στις βικτωριανές αφηγήσεις τής Εξέγερσης είναι έκδηλες ορισμένες ακραίες μορφές εξωκατευθυνόμενης παρανοϊκής επιθετικότητας: έτσι το ρατσιστικό μοτίβο τής επίρριψης τής ευθύνης στο θύμα λαμβάνει τη μορφή οξείας πόλωσης και αντιπαράθεσης μεταξύ τού καλού και τού κακού, μεταξύ αθωότητας και ενοχής, ηθικού ελέγχου και σεξουαλικής εξαχρείωσης, πολιτισμού και βαρβαρότητας. Οι λεκτικές αυτές κατηγορίες εκλαμβάνονται ως φυλετικά χαρακτηριστικά που, στα πλαίσια μιας ιμπεριαλιστικής αλληγορίας, συνιστούν επαρκή δικαιολογητικό λόγο για την ολοκληρωτική καθυπόταξη τής Ινδίας ή — ορισμένες φορές — ακόμα και για την ολική εξολόθρευση των Ινδών» (P. Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness, σ.200).
THE manner in which capital punishments are inflicted, is almost as varied as the manners and customs of the various nations of the globe. In England criminals are hanged, in France they are guillotined, in Spain they are garotted, in Italy and Austria they are shot or beheaded, in Russia they are broken on the wheel, in Turkey they are bow-strung, in China they are disposed of in many ways, amongst the American Indians they are tomahawked, and in certain remote lands they are said to be sometimes baked and eaten! But in no country, save India, has the punishment of death from the cannon’s mouth ever been carried into effect. It is one of the institutions of Hindustan; and, like most others of the land, is barbarous and horrible.
Until the middle of last year, this extreme penalty was regarded rather as a tradition than a fact, although men with white beards sometimes alluded to it as one of the spectacles which they had witnessed in their younger days. The massacres of May and June, however, at length restored this terrible Nemesian instrument of punishment, and it soon became familiar over the length and breadth of India. As far as the shortening of physical agony is concerned, to be blown away from the cannon’s mouth must be regarded as one of the easiest methods of passing into eternity. Pain can have no duration; and as the criminals who meet their death in this form are mostly indifferent to their fate, its abolition even upon grounds opposed to humanity might be safely recommended. To men of keen sensibilities the few minutes preceding the execution must appear like cycles of torture; but to brutes like the savages of Cawnpore and Delhi they can have few terrors.
I had for a long time believed that Bombay would have been spared the horrors of such a spectacle; but about noon on the fifteenth of October, it became known in the Government offices, that there would be a military execution that evening, and long before four o’clock the following Garrison Order was in circulation all over the island :—
The troops in garrison will parade this afternoon on the general parade ground, when the sentence of a general court-martial will be explained and carried into effect.
The parade to be formed by a quarter before five o’clock.
Markers to be on ground at half-past four o’clock.
Extract from the proceedings of a European general court-martial.
At a European general court-martial, assembled at Fort George, Bombay, on Tuesday the 13th day of October, 1857, under the provisions of Act No. 8 of the Legislative Council of India, drill havildar Syed Hoossein, of the Marine Battalion N. I., and private Mungul Guddrea, of the 10th Regiment N.I., were tried on the following charge:—
For having, on or about the night of the 3rd October, 1857, attended a seditious meeting held in a house in part of the town of Bombay, called Sonapore, and at that meeting, they, the said drill havildar Syed Hoossein and private Mungul Guddrea, made use of highly mutinous and seditious language, evincing a traitorous disposition towards the Government, tending to promote rebellion against the State, and to subvert the authority of the British Government.
The above being in breach of the Articles of War.
By order of Brigadier J. M.SHORT,
Commanding the garrison of Bombay.
(Signed) M.BATTYE, Captain,
Bombay, 15th October, 1857.
Upon which charge,the Court came to the following decision:—
FINDING.— The Court,from the evidence before it, finds the prisoners, drill havildar Syed Hoossein and private Mungul Guddrea, guilty of the charge preferred against them.
REVISED SENTENCE.— The Court having found the prisoners guilty as above specified, and which being in breach of the Articles of War, and taking into consideration their general character, sentences them, drill havildar Syed Hoossein,of the Marine Battalion N. I., and private Mungul Guddrea, of No. 8 Company 10th Regiment N.I., to suffer death by being blown away from the muzzle of a cannon.
(Signed) J.RAINES, Major,
H.M. 95th Regiment, and President of the
(Signed) R. R.HATHWAY, Captain,
APPROVED AND CONFIRMED. The sentence to be carried out this afternoon,in the presence of the troops in garrison.
(Signed) J. M.SHORT, Brigadier,
Commanding the Garrison.
Bombay, 15th October, 1857.
I was on the parade ground long before the appointed hour to witness the terrible scene.
While the troops were assembling, ample space was afforded to the spectators for observation and reflection; and perhaps never did the eye of man rest on such a magnificent picture. The sea as far as the eye could reach, lay calm and still as an inland sea which had never felt the ebb and flow of tides. The distant Ghauts and the adjacent hills were tinted with dyes of gold and purple. The island of Bombay itself seemed submerged in depths of yellow radiance; it lay, in fact, like a speck of darkness, in a sea of amber, so rich and mellow was the sunset’s glory. The far-off hills seemed robed in purple, and one every side the landscape was one of repose and beauty. The gentle waves of the Arabian sea, as they rolled in broken murmurs on the yellow sands — the lofty palms, as they swayed to and fro, breathing a music all their own, and the hum of a city, numbering upwards of seven hundred and fifty thousand souls, raised thoughts in the human heart wonderfully at variance with the awful scene about to be enacted.
About half-past four o’clock, the military began to arrive. Gun after gun made its appearance, and took up the position assigned to it. Out of every gateway from the fort, Europeans and natives were pouring on to the esplanade in hundreds, and from the native town every alley, street, and lane were disgorging their thousands. All seemed anxious to behold two traitor Sepoys blown into dark eternity. Their crime was known, and the stern and compressed lips of every European present told how well they deserved their doom. The manner in which they had been detected in their nefarious designs, was subtle and complete, and reflected much credit upon the deputy-commissioner of police and his assistants. Three times had a merciful Providence defeated the plots of the mutineers by the timely arrival of European troops from remote colonies; and while the fourth plot was being- brought to maturity, the two criminals were seized. The times demanded that a terrible example should be made, and the doom of the men was speedy.
Before five o’clock, the whole of the troops in the garrison had taken up their position on the esplanade. As the parade was formed, it occupied three sides of a square. In the centre of what may be called the base line were the Artillery, with five hundred sailors of the Honourable Company’s Navy on their left, and about the same number of her Majesty’s Ninety-fifth Regiment on their right. The right and left sides of the square were composed of the Sepoy regiments of the garrison, against which were placed six guns, three on either side, loaded, levelled, and laid; the artillery-men having their matches, lighted, ready to, blow the three native regiments to pieces, had a finger but been raised. Between the six guns were placed, at right angles to the basement of the square, the two guns to which the prisoners were to be fastened. The gunners were all men of the Royal Artillery, and the position of each seemed gauged to a hair’s breadth. It was evident that they were new to the work; but their quiet and composed manner showed that they were quite prepared. Immediately behind the two guns, the guard,with the two-prisoners in the centre, was stationed.
As the hour of five struck, the stillness became awful; every feeling and faculty was strung to its utmost tension, and the beating of hearts became audible. The spectacle was one of quiet horror; there being none of that excitement which is to be met with at a public execution in any other part of the world. The natives of India are not a demonstrative race, and they looked on with, an appearance of stolid indifference. The handful of stern and determined Europeans had, moreover, over-awed them, and there was but one feeling predominant — fear. Amongst all the assembled thousands a murmur could not even be heard — a whisper would almost have broken the stillness. The officers rode along the lines resolved and silent. So noiseless was their motion, that even the champ of their horses’ bits and the clank of their sabres jarred upon the ear. While the clock was yet striking, the Brigadier commanding the garrison rode in front of the two executive guns, and it seemed for a moment as if all sound had died away.
The sentence of the court-martial was then read to the prisoners in the Hindustani language, after which they were ordered to prepare for death. They were stripped of their regimental jackets, and marched between files of their European guard to the muzzles of the two guns. The drill havildar, one of the two, was a noble-looking man in the noon of manhood; tall and stately. His mien was erect and dignified until the men of the Royal Artillery laid hands on him. Then he seemed to feel that his hour had come: a shudder shook his frame, his jaw fell, and his ivory-white teeth were disclosed. While the two men were being bound, not a syllable was uttered by the assembled crowd, but a rattling of steel along the line gave notice that the Enfield rifle was being prepared for action. At the word «prime» — and when the ominous click of the lock fell upon the ear, the Tenth Native Infantry visibly shook. It was evident that they did not know but that next moment the rifles might be brought to shoulder, and levelled against their front.
Simultaneously with the loading of the Infantry, the guns to the right and left of the criminals were turned straight upon the native regiments. They were loaded to the muzzle with canister and grape, and the gunners stood by the touch-holes with their matches lighted. On the ramparts of the fort four sixty-eight pounders were also laid and ready.
By this time the prisoners were secured to the two guns. There was a moment’s pause, which was broken by Captain Bolton,of the Royal Artillery, calling out, with a loud voice, «Let all retire from the two guns except the two men with the port-fires: at the word ‘Fire,’ apply the match.» There was probably a pause of two seconds’ duration; then the word «Ready!» was given by Captain Bolton. The gunners took but a moment to blow up their matches, but it seemed along, longtime. The two prisoners and the two artillery men stood out in bold relief, immoveable as statues. The awful stillness was at length broken. The word «Fire!» rang out clear as a clarion-note from the lips of Capt. Bolton. Next moment, the earth shook as if a volcano had opened at our feet. The guns were enveloped in thick clouds of smoke, through the white wreaths of which little particles of a crimson colour were falling, thick as snow-flakes. The particles were the prisoners blown into atoms.
When the smoke cleared, a score or two of half-naked men, each with a broom and a small basket, were scattered over the plain. They were the sweepers, picking up the fragments for interment, and robbing the crows of their morning repast. As the sun dipped in a sea of gold the artillery limbered up, the military marched to their lines, and the crowd dispersed.
Those who witnessed the impressive scene will never forget it. The Europeans were scarcely one to a thousand — in fact, they could hardly be seen amongst the myriads of Asiatics; but all appeared as cool and confident as if they had been at a review in Hyde Park. And yet there was scarcely a man present who had not been sleeping with a loaded revolver in his bedchamber for months, or who would have expressed the least surprise if his slumber had been broken any night by the rattle of musketry, and the roar of artillery. So long had we all been sojourning in the valley of the shadow of death!
As distance lends enchantment to the view, it is possible that the spectacle I have endeavoured to describe may be denounced by a class of Englishmen, as cruel and inhuman; but they ought, before condemning, to pause and reflect on the enormity of the crime, which the men who were executed had projected. They had planned the destruction of every European man, woman, and child on the island of Bombay.
As soon, however, as the present crisis has passed, when the mutiny shall be over, and order quite restored, I, for one, would recommend the abolition of this punishment. India has become so familiarised to the spectacle, that it excites little or no dread. The gallows, or Demarara has far greater terrors for the miscreants of Cawnpore and Delhi, than whole parks of artillery. They sneak like dogs to the gallows to be hanged; but they march like soldiers to the cannon’s mouth to be blown away!