On July 10, 1806, exactly two hundred years ago, as the moon shone over the ramparts of the Vellore fort, at 2 a.m., Indian sepoys rose in a bloody revolt against the East India Company’s garrison. As shrieks and gunfire pierced the quiet, the sepoys shot at English officers, fired into the European barracks and massacred the sick in their hospital, leaving 14 British officers and 100 soldiers dead. In the counterattack unleashed at 9 a.m. by Colonel Robert Rollo Gillespie’s men, who rushed from Arcot 14 miles away, 350 Indians sepoys were put to death. Some British accounts place the figure at 800. This little documented event was the first major rebellion against the emerging British Empire in colonial India. It cost the governor of Madras, Lord William Bentinck, his job.
At the time of the revolt, the fort -- a late 14th century Vijayanagara construction of European design encased by a crocodiles-infested moat, captured by Sivaji in 1677, and garrisoned by the East India Company in 1768 -- comprised four companies of His Majesty’s 69th Regiment, six companies of the 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, and the whole of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment, accounting for 1500 Indian sepoys and 370 Englishmen.