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The Lucknow Residency siege

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The insurgent sepoys who entered Lucknow on June 30, 1857, found the city rife with resentment against the recent British takeover of the kingdom of Avadh. The tiny and isolated British garrison, under the command of Sir Henry Lawrence, took refuge in the Residency, which became the focus of a fierce struggle.

Less than a third of the three thousand British residents and loyal Indians who crammed into the Residency survived the four-and-a-half-month siege. So unhygienic were their living conditions that those who failed to succumb to gangrenous and tetanus-infected wounds often fell victim to cholera and scurvy. While a barrage of heavy artillery was maintained by both sides, the insurgents attempted to tunnel under the defences and lay mines, but among the British were former tin-miners in the 32nd (Cornish) Regiment, who were far more adept at such things, and were able to follow the sounds of enemy chipping, defuse mines, and even blow up several sepoy-controlled buildings.

Morale remained high among the 1400 noncombatants, who included fifty schoolboys from La Martinière, and class distinctions were upheld throughout. While the wives of European soldiers and non-commissioned officers, children and servants took refuge in the tikhana (cellar), the “ladies” of the Residency occupied the higher and airier chambers, until the unfortunate loss of one Miss Palmer’s leg on July 1 persuaded them of the gravity of their predicament. Sir Henry Lawrence was fatally wounded the next day. The wealthier officers managed to maintain their own private hoard of supplies, living in much their usual style. Matters improved when, after three months, Brigadier-General Sir Henry Havelock arrived with reinforcements, and the normal round of visits and invitations to supper was resumed despite the inconvenient shortage of good food and wine. Not until November 17 was the siege finally broken by a force of Sikhs and Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell. Their offers of tea, however, were turned down by the Residency women; they were used to taking it with milk, which the soldiers could not supply.

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