£5 Mutiny

Vegans and vegetarians have voiced outrage after revelations that the new £5 notes contain animal fat. The Bank of England confirmed via Twitter on Monday that the new plastic fivers are made with tallow – a substance derived from fat and used in candles and soaps.

“There is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes,” it confirmed.

Innovia, the company that makes the banknotes said it obtained the animal fat through a supplier, which it declined to name. The company said it used the substance to give the notes their anti-static and anti-slip properties, and pointed out that thousands of products contain tallow. It could not confirm which animals the fat had come from.

Animal fat used in plastics is most commonly derived from beef and mutton, though it can come from pork or other meats.

A petition has already been launched to remove the new note – which only became legal tender in September – from circulation. At the time of writing it had been signed by more than 5,000 people.

However, we have, once again, failed to learn a lesson from History.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a rebellion in India against the rule of the British East India Company, that ran from May 1857 to July 1859. The rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, western Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region.

The rebellion posed a considerable threat to East India Company power in that region, and was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion has been known by many names, including the Indian Mutiny, India’s First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Rebellion of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion, the Indian Insurrection, and the Sepoy Mutiny.

It was over the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle. These rifles, which fired Minié balls, had a tighter fit than the earlier muskets, and used paper cartridges that came pre-greased. To load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges was rumoured to include tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus, and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. At least one Company official pointed out the difficulties this may cause:

unless it be proven that the grease employed in these cartridges is not of a nature to offend or interfere with the prejudices of caste, it will be expedient not to issue them for test to Native corps.

However, in August 1856, greased cartridge production was initiated at Fort William, Calcutta, following a British design. The grease used included tallow supplied by the Indian firm of Gangadarh Banerji & Co. By January, rumours were abroad that the Enfield cartridges were greased with animal fat.

Company officers became aware of the rumours through reports of an altercation between a high-caste sepoy and a low-caste labourer at Dum Dum. The labourer had taunted the sepoy that by biting the cartridge, he had himself lost caste, although at this time such cartridges had been issued only at Meerut and not at Dum Dum. There had been rumours that the British sought to destroy the religions of the Indian people, and forcing the native soldiers to break their sacred code would have certainly added to this rumour, as it apparently did. The Company was quick to reverse the effects of this policy in hopes that the unrest would be quelled.

On 27 January, Colonel Richard Birch, the Military Secretary, ordered that all cartridges issued from depots were to be free from grease, and that sepoys could grease them themselves using whatever mixture “they may prefer”. A modification was also made to the drill for loading so that the cartridge was torn with the hands and not bitten. This however, merely caused many sepoys to be convinced that the rumours were true and that their fears were justified. Additional rumours started that the paper in the new cartridges, which was glazed and stiffer than the previously used paper, was impregnated with grease. In February, a court of inquiry was held at Barrackpore to get to the bottom of these rumours. Native soldiers called as witnesses complained of the paper “being stiff and like cloth in the mode of tearing”, said that when the paper was burned it smelled of grease, and announced that the suspicion that the paper itself contained grease could not be removed from their minds.

… Dirty money.

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