The Visakhapatnam Revolt of 1780 - first ever rebellion against the English company rule!!

Visakhapatnam mutiny of

It is very unfortunate that  a little  is known about the the first-ever sepoy mutiny in British India that  took place in  an unknown fishing village along the Coromandel Coast that was then called Vizagapatam, now a big city in Andhra Pradesh.

When you talk  about the great rebellion, the Sepoy mutiny or the first war of independence of 1857, the one that began in Meerut Cantonment (10 May 1857) over the greasing of  cartridges of new model  Enfield rifles by the Hindu and Muslim soldiers of the EIC  comes to our mind. This is because the revolt lasted for more than a year covered   a  vast and  the casualty on the  Indian side was way high. On account of its time factor and its  repercussions and   political impact  on the unjust British company,  the other small rebellions that predated the Sepoy revolt of 1857  were  eclipsed by it. 

Much ahead of the Vellore mutiny of 1806 and the Barrackpore (WB) of 1824,  first ever revolt by the sepoys against the British took place on 3 October 1780  in the harbor city of  Visakhapatam, AP.  Though it  happened to be the first major protest   in India, as coined and recorded in the Gazetteer in the London Archives, no proper recognition is not yet given by the central and state governments. As to the other revolts like the Vellore mutiny of Tamil Nadu, etc.,  they are also little known across India, particularly, in the northern states; this being due to poor media report and poor coverage in the Indian history books. That the very first protest against the greedy and corrupt English company took place in the port city of Vizag  is not known to scores of fellow Indians is  a sad  story.


vizag. 3 British officers buried here.

Above image:  Visakhapatnam revolt, 1780 CE. All three British officers  killed in the revolt might have been buried at the Old European Cemetery in the city. But there are no signs of their mortal remains in the grave. But today only the grave of  a young officer by the name Kingsford Venner is left undisturbed .and from the inscription below the tomb we infer that the first protest against the English co did take place in Vizag. ............

In the 1780s, in the  two  regiments of the Grenadiers (Circars battalions of the Coast Infantry) stationed at Vizagapatam and Masulipatam (now Machilipatnam a preponderance of them  were Muslims.  Ever on the expansion mode, the British  wanted to establish their hegemony in the southern parts of India. But the ruler of Mysore Hyder Ali  was a stumbling block to their expansionism and his led to  Anglo-Mysore wars between Hyder Ali and East India Company 

In order to reinforce the  strength  of the army the then Governor of Madras, John Whitehall  on September 14, 1780   got in touch with  the then chief of Vizagapatam and Masulipatam settlements, James Henry Casamajor, to send troops for reinforcement to confront Hyder Ali. 

The Indian soldiers in the troops there   were quite disappointed  with the British over non- payment of additional salary for the extra duty done by  them -  collecting  taxes, etc.  They were entitled to additional  pay which the English never paid. Besides, Muslims in the troops were reluctant  and averse to the idea of fighting a fellow Muslim ruler  along with the arrogant English troops.


Under the command of Capt. Lysaught on October 3, 1780., the Sepoys at Vizag were to board the Sartine frigate (apparently heading Madras) after the inspection of guards around 3 pm. Quite hesitating to be part of the troop to fight against the Mysore ruler, several soldiers refused to board the ship.  As they were quite adamant, the British used force to cow them down. When the army kept intimidating the sepoys by using physical force  a few of the sepoys led by one  Subedar Sheikh Mohammed Khan resorted to violence. Using their muskets  they  fired  at the troop,   causing death to  three English officers namely Lt. Crisps, Cadets Kingsford Venner and Robert Rutherford, the paymaster. and injuring  Capt. Maxtone and Capt. Lane.

As  there was no resistance from the English  army, the rebels, having taken  several civil servants into captivity including Cap. Casamajor, finally took control  over the town. In the process, they freed  a French  spy who had been jailed for sometime.  Undaunted and unstoppable, the rebel soldiers began looting  the Company’s coffers - cash  to the tune of   Rs.21,999 plus company's   property.  

On the morning of October 4, 1780 the rampaging sepoys,  with a view to joining the troops of Hyder Ali were  trying to  march out  of the town with the chief  Henry Casamajor and the other officials as captives. But, finally they gave it up upon the interference of the local Zamindars, in particular,   Gajapathi Narain Deo.  It  turned out  to be  a grave mistake because  English Casamajor  returned to the army camp and  briefed  the seniors  about the rebel soldiers.

The English forces with weapons and additional soldiers loyal to them,  chased the rebels and finally  apprehended  them  near a gorge in Gudderallywanka at Payakraopeta, now a  border town in Visakhapatnam district. There is no clear historical records as to what had happened later. But it is believed that some of them were killed in the ambush and the others, including Shaikh Mohammed, were ''executed mercilessly by the Company’s men,”  according to Historian Prof. Suryanarayana. (of History and Archaeology of Andhra University),

But for the grave of  Kingsford Venner in the now dilapidated Old Town cemetery, and the tombstone states that he was killed in the Sepoy Mutiny of October 3, 1780,  there are no proper remnants or records of this mutiny that short lived. The mutiny was reported in Hickey's Gazette, the first English newspaper in India, a couple of days later. As to the British casualty, there are no records of the graves or tombs. Either, they would have been destroyed due to time factor or it is likely they might have been tampered with  by the trespassers.   Today, only the grave of a young officer  Kingsford Venner is left intact.  The inscription on this grave, confirms  this historic event. 

Grave of cadet Kingsford, Vizag cemetery

Above image: The grave of Cadet Kingsford Venner who was killed in the first sepoy mutiny, in Visakhapatnam.— Photo: K.R. Deepak  

inscription in the grave. Visakhapatnam mutiny,

This  brief mutiny is just like  the First Sepoy Mutiny  of Vellore. In 2006 the Indian govt. issued a portal stamp  to commemorate the 200 years of Vellore mutiny  - 10 July 1806 in which about 130  British soldiers were killed inside the Vellore fort..  Several rebels were caught, hanged to death and executed by the British;  some were blown before the cannons.  

The Vizag mutiny may be a brief one and the British casualty is not very much. However, it took place for the first time even prior to the Vellore mutiny.  So, it  is time for the A.P. government  to  recognise the First Sepoy Mutiny of Visakhapatnam against the oppressive early English  rule.   Already 236 years have gone by since the  first upraising.  British records  mention  that three British officers were killed in the mutiny. “The chief of the settlement was imprisoned, the treasury and armoury were looted, and the cantonment was plundered by the rebels. The rebel soldiers  were tried for the mutiny and looting.''   

Vizag revolt, 1780 against the British company.

This first revolt against the British in Vizag created ripples in London and as of today nothing is done about this brief  revolt by the governments both at the state and central levels.  Heritage conservationists in the city have put forwarded  the state government to  develop a memorial in  ''One Town'' in the city   where  the first Indian uprising against the British took place.

 Edward Paul, Historian and heritage specialist is of the opinion based on the gazette report  “The uprising was because of maltreatment meted out to the sepoys by Englishmen and also the patriotic fervour. The native sepoys, who were engaged only to do local service, were also dispersed all over the district for revenue collection. But whenever such campaigns were undertaken, they were not paid any extra allow-ance by English office. Thus the simmering anger and frustration drove a section of the Indian soldiers to protest against the British for their arrogance and greed for capturing more Indian lands.