The Devil's Trap (Hardback)
The Victims of the Cawnpore Massacre During the Indian Mutiny
As reviewed in History of War magazine, issue 76: 'The heart-breaking true story of the most brutal episode of the Indian Mutiny told through the lives of its victims.'
The Indian Rebellion of 1857-58 was the most ferocious explosion of violence in the history of the British Empire. It tested Britain’s colonial resources to the limit, and nearly brought about the downfall of its rule in India.
As the rebellion spread the strategic garrison at Cawnpore came under siege from rebels. The British inhabitants, including many non-combatant males and women and children, were caught up in the terrible events and spent nearly two months under profound threat which put them in fear for their lives and the likelihood of a brutal death; but they could not have imagined how dreadful that death would be. They suffered from thirst and starvation, and heat-stroke from the relentless scorching sun, holed up in a makeshift entrenchment, riddled with disease caused by the lack of sanitary provisions, and their numbers being seriously depleted from continuous bombardment by cannon balls and bullets from rebel snipers.
On being promised safe passage out of the city by boats, most of the men were treacherously massacred at the Sati Chaura Ghat, a landing-stage on the banks of the River Ganges, and the surviving women and children were imprisoned in a house known as the Bibighar to await their fate. That came on 15 July 1857, when they were slaughtered with cleavers in a murderous frenzy. On the following morning their naked remains were unceremoniously thrown down a well. At least six of them were still clinging on to life, including three children.
Much has been written about the siege of Cawnpore and the political events which caused it, but there less known about the people who suffered the ordeal. Who were they, and where did they come from? James Bancroft is well-known for the depth of research he carries out, and during this project he has followed the lives of many of the victims. For instance, one had worked with the engineer Brunel; a member of a family of one of the victims later became a well-known cricketer and footballer, and another was a descendant of an Anglo-Norman West Country family.
The author has tried to redress this by consulting official documentation and establishments, studying primary sources and contacting descendants, then cross-referencing and checking the information as much as possible. To try to understand opinions on both sides, he also studied documents and contacted individuals who believe the events at Cawnpore were India’s first steps in the freedom struggle towards eventual independence, and they have no misgivings concerning what happened.
On a visit to the Sati Chaura Ghat, Sir Frederick Treves, the prominent Victorian surgeon who witnessed the hurtful sufferings of the Elephant Man, referred to is as: ‘This Devil’s Trap!’
'History of War recommends...'All About History
The horrific massacre of the British garrison at Gawnpore during the Indian mutiny is the subject of James Bancroft's new book, with amazing tales of survival in the face of the most dreadful treatment of the incarcerated men, women and children. A real life horror story, expertly researched and told by James.Books Monthly
Bancroft has produced a meticulously researched and well-written account that brings to the reader the true heart-breaking human tragedy of the Cawnpore massacre in a way not previously achieved. The brutality of the subject matter sometimes makes it a difficult read but for anyone wishing to understand the true, dark nature of the Indian Mutiny it is a must-read.History of War, issue 76
Author article: 'Teenager cornered then killed in The Devil’s Trap' as featured byLancashire Evening Post, 4th December 2019
It is, I think, a very well-researched account of the Cawnpore Massacre, and well worth reading if you are interested in it and/or the British Empire history of this area.NetGalley, Janette Forman
Article: 'The Dorset woman who escaped being killed in a murderous frenzy - but succumbed to smallpox' as featured byDorset Echo, 19th November 2019 – words by Joanna Davis
Article: 'New book tells the story of Yorkshire heroine's role in tragic massacre in India' as featured byThe Yorkshire Post – words by Grace Newton
An interesting look at almost moment to moment of what happened in India. Listing of the names of victims and those involved. A good source of primary information and not overwhelming in boring text. Easy to read.NetGalley, Alexandra Roth
The Devil’s Trap is exceedingly well written, researched, and is easy to follow for those previously unfamiliar with these ground breaking historic events. The Massacre was as shaking to the British Empire as 9/11 was to the USA. It was devastating in terms of the loss of human life, and changed forever the relationship previously enjoyed by the protagonists. Despite the loss of life, the British Raj continued beyond 1858 until 1947 pretty much without radical change.NetGalley, Nemo Nemo