Six VCs Before Breakfast? The 93rd in India, 16th November 1857

The Indian Mutiny, also known as the Indian Uprising or First War of Independence, was a major event in the history of both the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders and Britain more widely. India lay at the heart of the British Empire, and events there were felt throughout the British establishment and commerce. A common misconception is that the Uprising was caused by the issuing of new cartridges made using animal fat – contact with which was against the religious beliefs of the native soldiers or ‘sepoys’. Whilst this may have been a catalyst, it followed an increasing distrust of Britain and its motives in India. The British rule was perceived as working to undermine the caste system and local religions, and concerns grew around the power vested in the East India Company.

The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders – redirected from duties in China – arrived in Calcutta on 20th September 1857. From there they made the 600 mile journey to Cawnpore. Month earlier this has been the site of a large-scale massacre by rebels who had since secured themselves in the Governor’s Residency at Lucknow.

By 14th November the Regiment, totalling 934 men, was formed up to the south of Lucknow, with the task of freeing those trapped in the besieged Residency. On 16th November the main attack on the Secundrabagh, a large villa and walled garden, started at 6am. This was a strongpoint for the sepoys. After more than an hour, the men of the 93rd succeeded in making a hole in the wall. The fighting that followed was bloody and hand-to-hand, and extreme violence occurred on both sides. By 3pm the action was complete.

Snuff box carried by Private Peter Grant VC during the Indian campaign, 1857-8

For their actions on 16th November 1857, six men of the 93rd received the Victoria Cross. This new award for valour ‘in the presence of the enemy’ was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856, and first awarded in June 1857. Due to the early start of action on that day, it is commonly – and falsely – believed that all six VCs were won ‘before breakfast’. 

  • Captain William George Drummond Stewart
    ‘For distinguished gallantry at Lucknow in leading an attack upon and capturing two guns, by which the position of the Mess house was secured.’
  • Private Peter Grant
    ‘For great personal gallantry at the Secundrah Bagh, in killing five of the enemy, who were attempting to follow Lieutenant Colonel Ewart, when that Officer was carrying away a Colour which he had captured.’
  • Private David Mackay
    ‘For great personal gallantry in capturing an enemy’s Colour after a most obstinate resistance at the Secundrah Bagh, Lucknow. He was severely wounded afterwards at the capture of the Shah Nujiff.’
  • Lance Corporal John Dunley
    ‘For being the first man who, on 16th November 1857, entered one of the breaches in the Secundrah Bagh at Lucknow with Captain Burroughs, whom he most gallantly supported against superior numbers.’
  • Colour Sergeant James Munro
    ‘For devoted gallantry at the Secundrah Bagh, in having promptly rushed to the rescue of Captain Walsh of the same Corps, when wounded and in danger of his life, whom he carried to a place of safety, to which place the Sergeant was brought in shortly afterwards badly wounded.
  • Sergeant John Paton
    ‘For distinguished gallantry at Lucknow in proceeding along round the Shah Nujiff under an extremely heavy fire, discovering a breach on the opposite side, to which he afterwards conducted the Regiment, by which means that important position was taken.’
Snuff box carried by Private Peter Grant VC during the Indian campaign, 1857-8

Find out more about the campaign, and see the objects mentioned for yourself by visiting our ‘Fearless in Battle’ gallery. For more information or to plan your visit, take a look at our handy guide.