Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two Books concerning Sepoys

Two books that may be of some interest are Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy and The Best Black Troops in the World.

The author of Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy was a professor of Modern South Asian History at the University of Leidan. The book, published by Cambridge University Press (1990 & 2002), developed from the author's interest in a 1626 Dutch history of the Mughals written by Peter Munday.

Naukar (retainer), Rajput and Sepoy, the author states were originally interchangeable terms for a peasant in military service and who comprised the first of the castes that really only became defined by the middle of the 1600s.Rajput has, of course developed a more specific meaning ethnically now although it was not so at the time. Kolff states:

Rajput soldiers of the seventeenth century must have been of the most diverse origins. True, with a large number of them, memories of their precise social backgrounds were gradually obscured by vague territorial identities... But in ancient times, recruitment…had not taken social origins into account. Instead, it overlaid old identities with a new…’rajput’ veneer.

Essentially, caste was not as rigid as we today assume it was.

Mundy recounted travelling through India in 1632 where he saw labourers with their guns, swords and bucklers leying by them while they ploughed the ground

Approximately 60 pages deal with the period 1700 to 1901. It contains interesting information, although very specific in nature. There are no illustrations, no uniform information and no detailed information regarding battles. Not one for the beginner to the period!

This book was published in 2002 and is full of good information. It is not as heavy as the above book and it contains illustrations and maps, alas in b&w. The introduction basically deals with all the issues that the first book does, but in 31 pages.

The book contains a succinct account of the development of the Mughal recruitment system and nature of battles before European arrival. The author then contrasts this with the European system.

The book contains much useful information - such as most sepoys serving Clive were Muslim. By 1780 this had changed with most sepoys being Hindu. By 1790, most sepoys seem to have been boys - older men not being available due to the ravages of the earlier wars. There is no information on uniforms, although there are a couple of b&w pictures.

There is information on tactical organisation from circa 1742, formation of battalions and training. There are accounts of the battles of Buxar (1764), Tiruvannamalai (1767), Porto Novo (1781), Seringapattanam(1799), Assaye (1803) and the lesser known Laswari (1803).

The only appendix deals with the composition of storming parties between 1764 and 1803 (13 noted).

Published by Manohar Publishing in India. Unlike many books published in India, this is of good quality.

All in all, this is a very good book!


1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. If only I had time to read all the interesting books...