'The Moaning of the Hurricane'
Ever since the British had taken over in Bengal, there had been a continuous string of minor rebellions, mostly reactions against the changes imposed by the new regime. As British rule spread, so did the rebellions — between 1763 and 1856, there were no fewer than 40 armed revolts in various parts of British India. 1 But the troubles had always been localized, often led by deposed rulers and their descendants, or dispossessed zamindars and landlords with personal grievances. They had been supported by peasants who were suffering from the rapid changes introduced by the British. In the first 30 years of British rule, land revenue collection in Bengal was nearly doubled, and the same pattern was repeated in other provinces. To cover the cost of this and still show a profit, the bankers and money-lenders who had replaced many traditional landlords pushed up rents to ruinous levels, evicting those who couldn't pay. One result was that there were 12 major and a number of minor famines between 1770 and 1857, fuelling a growing discontent.
The general uneasiness might well have passed as the changes became the norm and revenue levels were sorted out. But there were other factors at work. In the eighteenth century, Britons had treated Indians and their customs with respect if not understanding. Once the excesses of the early years in Bengal had been rooted out, most civilians had seen themselves as trustees guarding an ancient culture on a temporary basis. By the I840s, the more enlightened civilians still believed this: even a tough, no-nonsense character like Henry Lawrence, who with his brother had been sent to cake charge of the Punjab in 1849, could write:
We cannot expect to hold India for ever. Let us so conduct ourselves ... as, when the connexion ceases, it may do so not with convulsions but with mutual esteem and affection, and that England may then have in India a