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Deccan Herald » Sunday Herald » Detailed Story
The rising in the south
Though the credit for the 1857 uprising traditionally goes to North India, the South also had its share of bravehearts. Suryanath U Kamath gives a short account of 1857-58 uprising in Karnataka, which continued till 1859.

Karnataka was not cool when the North was up in arms against the British in 1857-1858. There were also tremors though not very severe in the South which gave shockwaves to the British.

Dharwad Magistrate Ogilvy had sent a copy of the letter found with Mundargi Bhimrao a ‘rebel’ leader, to the Secretary to Government of Bombay (dated September 28, 1858). Twelve copies of this letter were found with Bhimrao. It was addressed to all the “Suranjamdars, Jagirdars, Deshmukhs, Deshpandeys and other Jameendars, Patels, Kulkarnis, Naikwadis; Shetsanadees and the whole population of the Deccan and the Carnatic” by Dhondo Pant Nana Peshwa, Pant Pradhan (prime minister under the new political dispensation, headed by the Mughul Emperor Bahadur Shah II). The letter gives a picture of the atrocities perpetrated by the English described as kaffirs who by “practising treachery” had “seized all the Hindu and Mohammedan Kingdoms,” and “endeavouring to delude and convert the population of this country.” The letter calls upon an armed uprising to oust the kaffirs.


Halagali Bedas
The first uprising against the British was evidenced at Halagali (Mudhol taluk of Bagalkot district). The prince of Mudhol, Ghorpade had accepted British overlordship. But the Bedas (hunters), a marshal community, were seething with dissatisfaction under the new dispensation. The British proclaimed the Disarming Act of 1857 whereby men possessing fire arms had to register them and secure a license before November 10, 1857. Babaji Nimbalkar, a soldier thrown out of job from Satara Court, had advised these people not to loose their hereditary right to own arms.

One of the leaders of the Bedas, Jadgia was invited by the administrator at Mudhol and was persuaded to secure a license on November 11, though Jadgia had not asked for it. The administrator’s expectation that others would follow Jadgia was belied. So he sent his agents to Halagali on November 15, 20 and again on 21. But the entreaties of the agents did not succeed, and the agents sent on November 21 were attacked by Jadgia and Baalya, another leader and they were forced to return. Another agent sent on November 25 was not allowed to enter the village.

Meanwhile, the Bedas and other armed men from the neighbouring villages of Mantur, Boodni and Alagundi assembled at Halagali. The administrator reported the matter to Major Malcolm, the Commander at the nearby army headquarters, who sent Col. Seton Karr to Halagali on November 29.

The insurgents, numbering 500 did not allow the British to enter Halagali. There was a fight during the night. On November 30, Major Malcolm came with 29th Regiment from Bagalkot. They set fire to the village and many insurgents, including Babaji Nimbalkar died. The British, who had a bigger army and better arms arrested 290 insurgents; and of these 29 were tried and 11 were hanged at Mudhol on December 11, and six others, including Jadagia and Baalya were hanged at Halagali on December 14, 1857. No prince or jagirdar was involved in this uprising, but it was the common soldiers.

Surapur
Surapur (or Shorapur) in the present Gulbarga district was ruled by Beda Nayaks who had given tough resistance to Aurangzeb. The British appointed Capt. Meadows Taylor (famous writer) as its Resident and Regent when the ruler there died, leaving a young prince Venkatappa. Venkatappa Nayaka was educated in English and Taylor had endeared himself to the prince, who addressed Taylor as “appa”.

When the prince started his personal rule, being well educated, he felt the British overlordship very irritating. He was in his early 20s and had sent an agent to Peshwa Nanasaheb in December 1857. The British had reports that Venkatappa Nayak was planning to revolt on August 8, 1858, and was trying to encourage the British Regiments at Kolhapur (27th), Dharwad (28th) and Belgaum (29th) to revolt. Two agents trying to sow seeds of dissension in Belgaum army had been identified on February 2, 1858, and they were dispatched by Venkatappa Nayaka and the Jamkhandi Raja, it was reported. Venkatappa had recruited large number of Arabs and Rohillas. Capt. Malcolm posted a contingent at a village near Surapur and another batallion was posted at Sindhanur.
Campbell was sent to Surapur by Malcolm to advise young Venkatappa, who was only evasive in his replies. On February 7, British army near Surapur was attacked and many soldiers were killed by Venkatappa’s men. The next day, the British attacked Surapur fort, and the army from Madras led by Col. Hues was also summoned. Venkatappa’s men attacked the Surapur fort  killing many British soldiers.

But Surapur did not have much force to face the huge British army. One Vagangeri Bhimrao from Surapur, a secret agent of the British, advised Venkatappa to go to Hyderabad and seek help from Salar Jung. Venkatappa escaped from the fort and made his way to Hyderabad. Next day, Bhimrao opened the fort door, and Surapur was occupied without much resistance.

Venkatappa was apprehended at Hyderabad. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. When Meadows Taylor met him, Venkatappa said he did not wish to live and if he was to be sentenced to death, he must not be hanged like a criminal, but killed at the mouth of a canon. “I was not a coward,” Venkatappa told Taylor. Taylor, who had great affection for Venkatappa, had his life term reduced to four years internment by prevailing upon the Governor General, and he was to be reinstated after this four-year term. He was to be taken to Kurnool fort, and was to be interned there together with his two queens. While he was being taken to Kurnool, on an early morning when his armed guard had gone out for ablution, Venkatappa took the revolver his guard had left behind and shot himself dead.

Nargund
Bhaskar Rao (Babasaheb) Bhave succeeded Nargund (in Gadag district) gadi in 1842. When his son died at an early age, he requested for an adoption which the British turned down. Earlier his own aunt, Radhabai of Ramdurg State had been permitted to adopt his own brother (or cousin) in 1829. Bhaskar Rao was furious.
Bhaskar Rao contacted a large number of princes and jagirdars, including a former British tahshildar, Mundargi Bhimrao, and the Desais of Soratur, Hammige and the Raja of Anegondi. One Keshav Dayal Tivari, housed in Thana Jail, had been sending him encouraging messages to revolt. Mundargi Bhimrao had contacts with Peshwa Nanasaheb’s men.

Thomas Ogilvy, Magistrate at Dharwad, ordered Bhaskar Rao to send all canons and magazine he possessed to Dharwad. He sent them to Dharwad but had them looted on the way. The British suspicious of him, sent Capt. Manson from Kurundwad to contain him. With only 12 horsemen, he came to Ramdurg state on way to Nargund and camped at Suresban Village on the night of May 20, 1858.

Bhaskar Rao’s men surprised them, beheaded Manson and threw his body in the campfire nearby and brought his severed head to Nargund which was placed on a fort gate. But Bhaskar Rao was shocked to find letters from his most trusted officers in key positions written to Manson and they had already taken steps to destroy the magazine stocked in the fort. He was  helpless.

Gen. Malcolm came from Koppal on June 1, 1858, and attacked Nargund. Bhaskar Rao escaped from Nargund and entered Torgal jungle. He was betrayed by one of his men. He was tried at Belgaum and hanged on June 12, 1858. The valuable library at Nargund with 3,000 to 4,000 volumes was burnt by the British. Bhaskar Rao’s wife and mother committed suicide by jumping into the Malaprabha river.

Bhimrao Mundargi
Bhimrao Mundargi was an English educated person who had served as a tahshildar under the British, and had been dismissed from service. He was an active organiser from whom Bhaskar Rao was expecting help when attacked. Hammige Desai had collected arms on Bhimrao’s advice and the British seized them and locked them in the Desai’s wada (household). Bhimrao broke the lock and seal, and with Desai and his own men (he had collected them under the pretext of excavating a tank), looted the British treasury at Gadag and the Dambal town on May 24. He took shelter in the hill fort of Koppal in Nizam’s dominion. The British moved from Dharwad, Bellary and Raichur on June 1 (on the same day when Nargund was taken). They attacked the fort and Bhimrao and Hammige Desai, Kenchana Gauda with 150 people died fighting at Koppal. Many more were apprehended, tried and deported or hanged.

Soopa uprising
This was a prolonged uprising. It took place in Goa and Belgaum and Uttara Kannada (North Kanara) districts, the latter then under the Madras Presidency.

Phond Sawant, a grandee at the Sawantwadi Court (in Konkan), had revolted against the British in 1844. His 10 sons were interned in Goa under vigilance. On hearing the uprising in the North led by Peshwa Nanasaheb, three of them escaped to Supa taluk in Uttara Kannada in the British area, and joining hands with some local leaders planned a revolt. The Sawant brothers - Nana, Baba, and Hanumant - joined hands with three Phadnis brothers - Raghoba, Chintoba and Shantha - and started attacking British posts.

The North Kanara Special Commissioner Ballard had reported that restriction placed on Kumri shift cultivation, increased land revenue and the heavy salt tax, had caused unrest among the people. A letter addressed to the Portuguese government by the Sawant brothers warning them that the army of Nanasaheb Peshwa was coming soon, and the Portuguese must help the Sawants against the British, was found by the British administration.
In that case, they (the Portuguese) could be assured of protection from Nanasaheb’s army when it reached the region. This is a clear indication of them being inspired by the uprising in the North. In fact, the people in that forest region knew no government officer, but the local Chaukidars and Kolkars were the only British representatives.

The insurgents were joined by many local Siddis (descendants of Negro slaves who had escaped from Goa). The insurgents first burnt the British Chauki at Dotarpa, on March 12, 1858, looted it and arrested the Chaukidar called Bhujang Rao.

Western part of Soopa taluk came under the Sawant brothers. The insurgents made Darshani Gudda, a hilly track as their centre and continued to attack British posts. Brig. Fitzerald chased them into Goa. The Portuguese apprehended them. Nearly 100 people, including the Sawant brothers were deported to the Timor Island in East Indies in November 1858. Twentythree persons from Uttara Kannada were tried and were sent to Chingalpet Jail. The Special Commissioner sentenced another 34, who were sent to the Andaman Islands. Another 46 persons were found lodged in Dharwad Jail as per records.

Uprising again
Though the uprising again continued for only a few months in 1858, it started again in February 1859 when Siddi Bastiaon (from Panasolli near Dandeli) looted the house of a rich landlord at Waddarmane village on the banks of the river Kali, and continued his plunder across the river.

Two informants from Penoli village who had helped the arrest and hanging of insurgent Bikku Bandari were arrested by them. On April 7, when the Munsiff of Yellapur was on his way to Goa, the insurgents attacked his party. The insurgents,  numbering 60, were led by Siddi Bastiaon and his brother Benove, and there were many Brahmins among them, says Joint Magistrate Robinson in a report. They were operating from the borders of Goa.
Unlike the Sawant brothers, who were peacefully administering the region, these people were busy wrecking vengeance on those who had opposed them and engaged in loot, the report says. A prize of Rs 1000 was announced on the head of Siddi Bastiaon.

The local magistrate sanctioned 100 acres of land among those who suffered at the hands of the insurgents and 100 Shetsandis were appointed on a monthly payment of Rs 5 each.

Dipu Rane, a Jagirdar from Goa, was helping them. In addition, Anna Mangaonkar, a brother-in-law of the Sawant brothers, and Pondu Kaab from Sakali in Goa were also in league with the insurgents, the reports say. The Phadnis brothers and their uncle Gunba Shenvi were active in Dandeli and Ulvi region.

On June 24, 1859, they attacked Ankola taluk, coming from across the Goa border. There was a pitched fight at Jagalbet in which Chintoba Phadnis and Siddi Bastiaon were killed. On August 15, Lt. Drever, Grierson and Drury attacked the insurgents, and they were dispersed.

After that there was no news of them. Some of these were later arrested in Goa with the help of the Portuguese, and of these four were hanged, and many more were deported or sentenced to life term. Anyway, this second phase of 1859 continued from February to August.

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