St. John's, oldest English church, Meerut and the great rebellion (Sepoy Mutiny) of 1857

During the East India Company's rule, Meerut, now in U.P was the largest cantonment  in the northern states and had a  large European community, comprising mostly soldiers and officers. Meerut lies about 70 km from Delhi.

St John's Garrison Church St. John Baptist church,1822.Meerut.

St John's Garrison Church also known as  St. John Baptist church founded in 1819 and completed in 1822 came up in this part of upper central India to serve the Europeans and facilitate their spiritual engagement. It was built in the military cantonment area and was considered  the  first Anglican British church in this part.

St. John's Garrison church, Meerut.

St. John's Garrison church, Meerut,

 St. John's Church, Meerut.

Here, in this Church there is an old registry, containing the names of people baptized  and buried in the adjacent grave yard. It is in good condition and  some visitors from England come here in search of their ancestors' graves.  Consecration of the church was done  in 1822 by the Bishop of Calcutta, the Right Rev Thomas Fans haw Middleton and, prominent among the elite group present at that time, was Governor-General Marquis Hastings. Rev Henry Fisher, a one time Church of England Clergyman, was its first chaplain. This is a parish church; the parish was founded in 1819. 

St. John's Church,  Meerut.,

location map of Meerut.

The rare possessions of this oldest church are  the wooden pews and kneelers, brass eagle lectern, marble baptistery, and stained glass windows and all these are 200 years old. Yet another attraction is a manually operated vintage pipe organ with bellows to supply air to the organ. Because of aging, it is non-functional.  It once accompanied the singing of hymns by a congregation of about 1000 people in the colonial days.

St. John's cemetery, Meerut, India.

St. John's Church,  Meerut.,

Above images:   Graves in St. John's, Meerut.  Unfortunately most of the graves  are poorly maintained and  covered with over growth of plants, grass, shrubs, etc. In some places it is difficult to go around due to the presence of  snakes, scorpions etc. Here, it is possible to see the service and burial registers kept in good state - since 1819.  Meerut is one of the bigger Indian Cantonments and  sometimes British citizens come to look at registers to locate the graves of their ancestors .Pl. refer to:

As for the architecture of this church, it is based on the model of  Palladian or classical style  with high ceiling and large interior prayer hall most suitable for tropical country. The free air circulation will make the congregation comfortable particularly, in summer. The balcony is not in use. On the Easter, Christmas and New year days, the church  had large gatherings filling the entire prayer hall.

When one visits the grave yard of this church, one could see the scattered graves of many  soldiers who died in the early days of the first Indian  rebellion (used to be called  Sepoy mutiny).  The graves remind us of the repressive rule of the EIC that was the core of this massive rebellion. Indian historians  know it is here in  Meerut  the first  outbreak of the rebellion) took place. 

On 10 May 1857 at that time,  the congregation of British officers and their families well dressed were ready for the holy early evening prayer in spite of hot weather condition. No sooner had the services  begun, than a  group of Indian Sepoys suddenly barged into the prayer hall, brandishing their swords and bayonets. In the ensuing anarchy and pandemonium several British  soldiers were brutally killed.

 St. John's Church, Meerut.

 St. John's Church, Meerut.

The British instigated the highly tolerant Indian soldiers and  without their knowledge, on their own lit the powder keg  when the trouble had  begun on May 9, 1857.  Not using their discretionary power, they aggravated a tense situation  by  unashamedly  stripping  the uniforms  of  85 Sepoys of the 3rd Light Cavalry  in public. Reason: they  refused to use their  newly introduced rifles - the Enfield rifle-musket was a  primary contributing cause of the Indian rebellion of 1857.  Loading the Enfield often required tearing open the greased cartridge with one's teeth, and many sepoys (both Hindus and Muslims)  believed that the cartridges were greased with cow and pig fat, a taboo for the Hindus and Muslims respectively.

Besides this horrible  humiliation, 10 soldiers were given rigorous  imprisonment. Later one Mangal Pandey shot a British soldier in protest against their humiliation. He and other soldier were hanged to death without proper enquiry.  The ensuing unruly rioting was  due to British officers' arrogance and discriminatory attitude toward the enraged Indian soldiers.   This massive rebellion that began in May, 1857 lasted till July, 1859 shook the British Empire and impacted the morale of the British administration. 

Sepoy mutiny of 1857
The sowars of the 3rd Light Cavalry at Meerut began rioting in rage and later soldiers from  the 11th and 20th Native Infantry joined them and it snow balled into a hell-bent, violent mob accompanied by torching of the European bungalows in Meerut cantonment and murdering of its occupants. Never such a thing had happened before. Surely, the intemperate British officers opened the Pandora's box.  Literally,  the Meerut cantonment was afire. 

Caught unawares,  the British soldiers - the 6th Dragoon Guards, 60th Rifles,  Carabiniers and Artillery, became petrified, not knowing what to do and the Sepoys had a run on them. It is considered as the beginning a large scale rebellion against the oppressive rule of the English company, running a proxy government under the British Crown,  Rampant corruption in the English company, blatant racial discrimination in the military services, poor salary, utter disregard for the religious sentiments of Muslim and Hindu soldiers, besides harsh punishment of the Indian soldiers, etc., are some of the reasons. Their tolerance level reached the fag end and the natives, with full of hatred,  turned  the heat on the obnoxious, race conscious and over-bearing E.I.C officers. Their disobedience escalated into a towering inferno.  

St John's Garrison Church - Meerut  was a silent spectator of the untold atrocities done by the British against the Indian natives and how it provoked the natives who had borne the grief and pain of ill-treatment, humiliation and racial disparity for too long a time since the 18th century. The night of May 10, 1857 was the worst nightmare for thousands innocent British families. The docile Indian natives who no longer wanted to lose their pride and dignity on their own soil, under the  compelling circumstances, became violent against the foreign invaders.

This worst rebellion shook the British  Crown out of slumber and complacency and ultimately led to the direct  administration under the British Crown forcing EIC to quit for ever.