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Pipe Major John MacLeod and the Relief of Lucknow

Pipe Major John MacLeod and the Relief of Lucknow

One of staple tunes of many pipe bands is “The Green Hills of Tyrol.” This tune was adapted and transcribed from an Rossini opera by PM John MacLeod. While this is one of his main claims to fame, a story of his time in India during the Mutiny shows his courage as a soldier.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny by the sepoys regiments against the British East India Company. Many factors led to the rebellion, mismanagement and poor treatment of the local population by the British mainly. The mutiny is said to have been started by the introduction of the Enfield Rifle to the local regiments.

The Enfield Rifle, which was essentially a musket with a riffled barrel, used a cartridge that contained the bullet and pre-measured powder in a paper casing. The rifle was loaded by biting the paper wrapped bullet away from the rest of the cartridge. The bullet was then held in the mouth while the powder was added to the rifle. The bullet was then placed in, still wrapped in the paper, and rammed down the barrel. The tight fit of the bullet in the barrel required the paper to be greased in tallow.

A rumor spread thought the regiments that the paper rifle cartridges were coated with beef and pork tallow. The sepoys, members of the local population that volunteered for service in the East India Companies Army, were mainly muslim and hindu. This had the obvious effect on their religious beliefs.

The rebellion essentially started in Meerut in late April of 1857. The preceding months had been filled with unrest among the 19th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI). The new cartridges had been issued in February, 1957, and several incedents had occurred resulting in the death or flogging of the participants.

On April 24th the commander of the 3rd Began Light Cavalry, part of the BNI, were ordered to drill with the new rifles. Of the 90 men involved, 85 of them refused to participate. They were court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years hard labor.

The 85 men were sentenced on May 9th. They were stripped of their uniforms, placed in shackles, and marched to jail in front of their regiment. The following day, a Sunday, the regiment broke into open revolt. Most of the European officers were away at church. The Indian troops attacked the officers quarters and killed the junior officers along with the many civillians including women, children and local Indian servants. The 85 men were freed along with 800 other prisoners.

The 19th Bengal Light Infantry then made for Delhi. The Indian Rebellion officially started on May 11th, 1857. Members of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry reached the city and started to spread the seeds of revolt amongst the other local regiments. The city contained at least three battalion sized regiments, over 1000 men each. Many of the men, but no all of the regiments joined the rebellion right way.

When local British Officers learned what was happening they blew up the local arsnal, which contained a huge stock of ammunition. The explosion was heard throughout the entire city and destroyed the surrounding buildings and killed many civilians. This event caused the remaining regiments to join the revolt.

The local King, Bahadur Shah, at first refused to support the rebellion but soon agreed. On May 16th 50 Europeans who had been hiding in the city were killed by members of the King's household in a courtyard outside the palace. The rebellion then started to spread across the region.

The city of Lucknow was the capital of the province of Awash. It was controlled by the East India Company and annexed the British Raj (British Crown Rule) in 1857. By the 23rd of May, the British Governor started to fortify the Residency against the rebellion. It reached Lucknow by the end of June.

The Residency was a fortified compound and became home to many of the European residents of Lucknow during the mutiny. The compound covered almost 60 acres and had a small garrison of British and loyal Indian troops. In the beginning of July a force of almost 1,000 sepoys and several hundred other locals laid siege to the Residency.

A first relief of the Residency, by local British forces, was attempted in mid September. This force was able to add a little over 1,000 men to the defense force. They were able to defend the area for the next few months during another siege but the rebels.

John MacLeod was a member of the 93rd Regiment of Foot, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The regiment was on its way to a posting in China, having left England in early June. Word of the rebellion did not reach England until June 11th.

The 93rd Regiement stopped at Capetown in mid August and their learned of the rebellion. the were dispatched to India. Arriving on the 22nd of September. The regiment started inland in October, meeting with other columns on October 31st to start for Lucknow.

The force, led by Sir Colin Campbell of the 93rd Regiment and the Commander-in-Chief of India, started the relief of Lucknow on November 14th. The relief force contained members of several regiments, including the 93rd and loyal Indian regiments. By the evening of the 15th the relief force was close enough to signal the residence that the main attack would begin in the morning.

One of the keys to breaking the siege of Lucknow was the garden of Secundra Bagh. The garden was ringed by a high wall with parapets and a main gate on the southern wall. Secundra Bagh was heavily defended by the rebels and guarded the main route to the Residency.

On November 16th Campbells forces advanced on the Residency and laid siege to Secundra Bagh. Under heavy fire, several 18 pound cannons were brought up and were able to create a small breach in the southeastern wall.

Men from the 93rd Highlanders and 4th Punjab Infantry Regiment rushed to the breach. They found that the breach was only large enough to accommodate one man at a time. The 4th Punjab Infantry headed for the southern gate while the 93rd tried to force the breach.

Pipe Major John MacLeod was one of the first soldiers to make it through. Once inside he is said to have struck up his bagpipes to encourage the men. He stood next to the breach playing, in full view of the enemy. The disorder caused by the men of the 93rd allowed the 4th Punjab to force the gate. Secundra Bagh was captured but the British forces took no prisoners, leaving almost 2000 sepoys dead.

"The 93rd Highlanders Storming of the Secundra Bagh, 16 November 1857". Action during the Siege of Delhi. National Army Museum, London. (NAM 1987-06-12)

The next obstical was the Shah Najaf, a high walled mosque. The attack began in the late afternoon. After several hours of fighting Sir Campbell lead a force of men, along with a group of bagpipers led by MacLeod, against a breach in the wall. They played “Haughs of Crombell,” or “On wi’ the Tartan,”

The fighting continued for the whole night. At dawn Sir Campbell was able to send the Color party along with a 12-year-old bagpiper, to a high tower. The tune “Cock o’ the North” was said to have been played. The Residency was secured on the 17th of November.

Pipe Major John MacLeod’s bravery as a soldier is shown with this loosely attributed quote. After the battle when MacLeod was complimented on his pipers and their playing he is said to have responded, “I thought the boys would fight better with the national music to cheer them…”

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It's an Opera, It's a Pop Tune, It's "The Green Hills of Tyrol"
Piping 101 - Green Hills of Tyrol [Vintage]


David Lairson David has been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years. He is an instructor and soloist with the Palm Beach Pipes & Drums and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. David is active in the Florida competition circuit, and when he is not practicing or playing he works as a computer technician. He currently lives in sunny South Florida.