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Perceptions of an imperial crisis : Canadian reactions to the "Sepoy Mutiny", 1857-8 Stone, David Leigh


In 1857 many native civilians and soldiers in northern India rebelled against British rule. The so-called "Sepoy Mutiny" sparked a world-wide debate about the nature of British imperialism and about the character of its Asian subjects. This study examines the scope and causes of reactions in the United Province of Canada, the "senior" colony of the Empire. Contemporary newspapers are the main historical resource for both explicit reactions and implicit imagery about the conflict. All the perceptions were based on prejudices which pre-dated 1857. The war did not create any new images or even alter existing ones. Rather, it seemed to prove what Canadians had thought about India all along. The main issues were the "character" of the Indians, the nature of British imperial government, the causes and justice of the revolt, the morality of the "atrocities" and of reprisals and, implicitly, what the war meant for Canada. All Canadians shared the racist assumption that Europeans were superior to coloured people. On every other issue Canada's anglophone and francophone communities differed sharply. English-Canadians rallied to the flag; French Canada responded with its traditional anti-British, isolationist perspective, a legacy of the Conquest of 1759. The culminating reaction was that many British-Canadians volunteered to fight in India. Westminster responded by founding the 100th Royal Canadian Regiment. The first colonial regiment raised specifically for imperial service, it was meant to be the first step in a conscious effort to tighten imperial unity. The plan was the product of a momentary crisis mentality which did not deflect the long term trend toward imperial de-centralization. English-Canadians and French-Canadians saw almost every aspect of the war from different perspectives. Ethnic cleavage, far more than sectarian or class rivalry, was the distinctive feature of Canada's reactions to the "Mutiny".

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