From Probus School to India

In the summer of 1857 some native cavalrymen at Meerut, 40 miles north east of Delhi in India, rose in revolt against their British officers. The troops, employed by the East India Company had been enraged by rumours that evangelical British officers were plotting to replace Hinduism, Islam and other native religions with Christianity. Meanwhile, discontent had been fuelled by fears that traditional Indian rights to land were being usurped by the Company. The rising lit the flames of what in Britain was called the Indian Mutiny and later in India a war of independence.

Meerut in the 1890s

Angry crowds besieged and/or massacred Europeans at Meerut, Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow. After Lucknow was relieved, a war of guerrilla attacks and reprisals spluttered on into 1859. During these, and before, British troops were not slow to take a bloody revenge. According to A.N.Wilson in his The Victorians, Colonel John Neill ‘killed as many Indians in Allahabad alone as were killed on his own side in the entire two years of fighting.’ Although the rising was in reality mainly confined to north west India and to the state of Uttar Pradesh, it led to the abolition of the East India Company and the imposition of direct British rule. Some suggest it also marked a change in attitudes to the native Indians, a more racist dismissal of their culture and a greater determination to convert them to Christianity.

Eleven years after the end of the troubles in India a 20-year old Cornishman – Stephen James – won entry to the Indian Civil Service that, after the demise of the East India Company, now ran things. He began his work in 1870 as a secretary to the Government of India’s legislative department. Stephen was another ‘Old Probian’, having been sent to Probus School by his father, a mine agent at St Just in Penwith. Once in India, he soon married Sarah Collings, who came from Somerset, the marriage taking place at Poona in western India.

Stephen James’ entry in the freemasons’ membership register, c.1875

Stephen James’ career in the Indian Civil Service was a successful one. At the time of his death in 1897 at Agra in Uttar Pradesh he was a judge. His wife Sarah was back in Plymouth by 1901. With her was her son, probably their first, born at Meerut, the epicentre of the Indian rising, in 1873.