Matthew Hugh Reveley, one of my second cousins five times removed, was born in 1829 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, the son of Algernon Reveley (1786 -1870) and Diana Reveley nee Betty (1806 – 1846), both British. His father had been a writer (clerk) in the Honourable East India Company in Bengal from 1803 to 1822.
In 1847, at the age of seventeen, Matthew joined the East India Company‘s Bengal Army as a cadet. In August 1853 he became a lieutenant in the 74th Regiment Native Infantry, at that time based in Cawnpore, an important commercial and military station, 500 kilometers southeast of Delhi. By 1857 the regiment had moved to Delhi, where on 11 May it mutinied in the revolt that became known as the Indian Mutiny.
Bengal Native Infantry regiments typically consisted of 800 privates (sepoys), 120 non-commissioned officers (havildars and naiks), 20 native commissioned officers (subedars and jemadars), 2 British sergeants and 26 British commissioned officers. Regiments were commanded by a lieutenant-colonel and were divided into 10 companies, each assigned 2 British officers and 2 native officers. Each regiment was assigned an adjutant, an interpreter and a quartermaster. In 1857 there were 74 Bengal Native Infantry regiments.
The Indian mutiny began—or so it is said—when sepoys refused to use new rifle cartridges, which were rumoured to be lubricated with grease containing a mixture of pig and cow lard, religiously impure for Muslims and Hindus. In May 1857 85 sepoys of the Company’s army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 mi (64 km) northeast of Delhi refused to accept the new cartridge. They were court-martialled and found guilty of disobedience and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment with hard labour. On Saturday, May 9, the entire garrison was paraded to witness the sentences being put into effect. On 10 May Indian troops there, led by the 3rd Cavalry, broke into revolt. Some British officers, their wives and some civilians, including 50 Indians, were killed.
Most of the sepoys and sowars from Meerut made for Delhi on the night of 10 May. Early on 11 May, the first parties of the 3rd Cavalry reached Delhi.
The 74th was one of three regiments of Bengal Native Infantry stationed in barracks a few kilometres northwest of the city. They provided guards, working parties and other contributions to a “Main Guard” building just inside the walls, near the Kashmiri Gate on the northern circuit of walls, and to the arsenal in the city and other buildings.
Edward Vibart, who at the time of the mutiny was a nineteen year old lieutenant with the 54th Native Infantry, described the Cashmere (Kashmiri) Gate in his 1898 account of the mutiny:
…the Cashmere Gate, as this place was destined to be the scene of our operations for the remainder of this eventful day [11 May 1857]. This gate, like most fortified gates, is approached by two roadways cut through the glacis, one for entry and the other for exit, each of which, passing under a separate arched entrance, leads into a small fortified enclosure, called the Main Guard, which was always garrisoned by a detachment of fifty sepoys under a European officer. It consisted on this day of men of the 38th N.I., under Lieutenant Procter of that corps. This duty, which was taken in turn by each regiment in the
garrison, and lasted for a week at a time, was looked upon as a rather irksome one by the European officers, as the officer in command of the detachment was not allowed to quit the precincts of the Main Guard, and had always to be dressed in uniform.
The events at the Cashmere Gate in Delhi on the afternoon of 11 May including Reveley’s death are told in “The Tale of the Great Mutiny” which includes an eyewitness report by Edward Vibart:
Matters quickly came to a crisis at the Cashmere Gate. About four o'clock in the afternoon there came in quick succession the sound of guns from the magazine. This was followed by a deep, sullen, and prolonged blast that shook the very walls of the main-guard itself, while up into the blue sky slowly climbed a mighty cloud of smoke. Willoughby had blown up the great powder-magazine ; and the sound shook both the nerves and the loyalty of the Sepoys who crowded the main-guard. There was kindled amongst them the maddest agitation, not lessened by the sudden appearance of Willoughby and Forrest, scorched and blackened by the explosion from which they had in some marvellous fashion escaped.
Brigadier Graves, from the Ridge, now summoned Abbott and the men of the 74th back to that post. After some delay they commenced then' march, two guns being sent in advance. But the first sound of their marching feet acted as a match to the human powder-magazine. The leading files of Abbott's men had passed through the Cashmere Gate when the Sepoys of the 38th suddenly rushed at it and closed it, and commenced to fire on their officers. In a moment the main-guard was a scene of terror and massacre. It was filled with eddying smoke, with shouts, with the sound of crackling muskets, of swearing men and shrieking women. Here is Colonel Vibart's description of the scene : —
The horrible truth now flashed on me — we were being massacred right and left, without any means of escape ! Scarcely knowing what I was doing, I made for the ramp which leads from the courtyard to the bastion above. Every one appeared to be doing the same. Twice I was knocked over as we all frantically rushed up the slope, the bullets whistling past us like hail, and flattening themselves against the parapet with a frightful hiss. To this day it is a perfect marvel to me how any one of us escaped being hit. Poor Smith and Reveley, both of the 74th, were killed close beside me. The latter was carrying a loaded gun, and, raising himself with a dying effort, he discharged both barrels into a knot of Sepoys, and the next moment expired.
The death of Lieutenant Matthew H. Reveley of the 74th N.I. was reported in the London Gazette of 10 February 1858 as killed at Delhi on 11 May 1857.
Reveley’s name is recorded on a tablet in St. James’ Church, Delhi, which is situated near the Kashmiri Gate –
Lieutenant M.H. Reveley. Killed at the Cashmere Gate Delhi 11th May 1857.
Related post and reading:
- O is for Orfeur – another cousin on a different branch of the tree, Orfeur Cavenagh (1820 – 1891), also was a British officer during the mutiny
- Fitchett, W. H. “The Tale of the Great Mutiny”. Internet Archive, 1901, pages 38-9 https://archive.org/details/taleofgreatmutin00fitcrich/page/38/mode/1up?q=reveley
- Forrest, G. “A History of the Indian Mutiny, 1857-58 : Reviewed and Illustrated from Original Documents : with Maps, Plans, and Portraits.” Internet Archive, 1904, https://archive.org/details/historyofindianm01geor/page/48/mode/1up?q=reveley
- Luscombe, Stephen. “The Siege of Delhi.” The British Empire, https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/armycampaigns/indiancampaigns/mutiny/delhi.htm
- Vibart, Edward. “The Sepoy Mutiny As Seen by a Subaltern: From Delhi to Lucknow.” Internet Archive, 1898, pages 13-14 and page 49 https://archive.org/details/sepoymutinyasse00vibagoog/page/n78/mode/2up?view=theater
- Matthew Hugh Reveley (1829 – 1857)
- Matthew was a grandson of Jane (Champion Crespigny) Reveley (1742 – 1829) and great grandson of Philip Champion de Crespigny and Anne (Fonnereau) Champion de Crespigny