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The 1915 Singapore Mutiny, also known as the 1915 Sepoy Mutiny, or Mutiny of the 5th Native Light Infantry was a mutiny by 850 sepoys (Indian soldiers) against the British in Singapore during the First World War, part of the 1915 Ghadar Conspiracy. The mutiny, on 15 February 1915, lasted nearly seven days and resulted in the deaths of 47 British soldiers and local civilians, before it was finally quelled by a military coalition from four countries. It was an event that not only caught the British totally off-guard but also shook the foundation of British rule in Singapore.[1]



The Ghadar party (Ghadar is an Urdu/Punjabi word for "mutiny" or "rebellion") was formed in the United States in 1913 by Har Dayal, with the aim of ousting the British from India, by armed revolution. The Ghadrites anticipated that Indian soldiers posted overseas would ally with them in their cause, and actively targeted them with propaganda, encouraging them to mutiny against the British. A few months after the outbreak of the First World War, the Ghadrites incited the 130th Baluchi Regiment at Rangoon to mutiny, on 21 January 1915. The authorities had become aware of the plan however, and had taken preventive action by reassigning the soldiers to other outposts.[2] The Ghadrites then turned their attention to Singapore, which had a sizable population of sepoys, protecting British strategic interests.


Indian 5th Light Infantry

The 5th Light Infantry Battalion arrived in Singapore from Madras in October 1914. They had been sent to replace the Yorkshire Light Infantry, which had been ordered to France.[3] The infantry was mainly made up of Indian Muslims, commanded by British officers. Poor communication between the sepoys and their officers, slack discipline and a weak leadership, meant that the troops' morale was low, and propaganda from the Ghadar Party in India, campaigning for Indian independence from British rule, further disaffected the troops stationed in Singapore.


Mehmed V, the Sultan of Turkey, was one of the three emperors of the Central Powers during the First World War

Mehmed V, the Sultan of Turkey, who sided with Germany after the First World War broke out, was widely regarded as the leader of the Muslim world. When Britain declared war on Turkey, the Muslims, including those in Singapore, were urged to oppose the British by a fatwa issued by the sultan.[4] A pro-Turkey Gujarati coffee-shop owner, Kassim Mansur, visited the sepoys and even invited them to his home. Together with Nur Alum Shah, a religious leader, Mansur instilled anti-British feelings in the sepoys, and told them it was their religious duty to rise up against the British.[5]

The mutiny

In November 1914, the British government decided to send the sepoys to Hong Kong. However, rumours were circulated among the sepoys that they might be sent to Europe or Turkey, to fight against their Muslim brethren.[6] When the order to sail to Hong Kong aboard the Nile arrived in February 1915, the sepoys, believing the rumours to be true, decided it was the time to rebel. At 3:30 pm on 15 February 1915, 850 men of the 5th Infantry with 100 men of the Malay States Guides Mule Battery mutinied. The mutineers divided themselves into three groups. A party of 100 went to obtain ammunition from Tanglin Barracks, where 309 Germans, including crew members from the German light cruiser SMS Emden, had been interned by the British. The mutineers fired on the guards and officers without warning, killing all except one who managed to escape under heavy fire to raise the alarm. The mutineers tried to persuade the Germans to join them, but the Germans were reluctant, as they refused to have anything to do with what they considered to have been a dishonourable act and actually took up arms and defended the barracks after the mutineers had left (sheltering some British refugees as well) until the prison camp was relieved.[7] Thirty-five Germans escaped but the rest remained in the barracks.[6]

As it was the middle of the Chinese New Year, most of the Chinese Volunteers Corps were on leave, leaving Singapore almost defenceless against the mutiny. The British government was caught unprepared, and other mutineers went on a killing spree at Keppel Harbour and Pasir Panjang, killing many Caucasian men and women. Martial law was imposed and marines from HMS Cadmus went ashore to be mobilised with those garrison troops who were still loyal. British Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram sent a radio message requesting help from any allied warships nearby.[6]

A group of mutineers laid siege to the bungalow of the commander of the British Army in Singapore, Colonel E. V. Martin, which effectively blocked the route into Singapore Town. Colonel Martin and his men held out all night until they were relieved at daybreak by armed volunteers and civilians. The defenders were successful in capturing a fair amount of the mutineers' artillery but the action cost one killed and five wounded.[8] The mutineers scattered, and despite heavy sniper fire the general population stayed calm while the militia fought sporadic battles with the mutineers.

Allied forces

The Montcalm (1898–1926), an armoured cruiser of the French Navy, responded to Vice-Admiral Jerram's call for help

On 17 February, the French cruiser Montcalm, followed by the Russian cruiser Aural, and Japanese warships Ottawa and Tsushima arrived.[9] The allies' marines were immediately mobilised, and advanced on the mutineers. A fierce battle ensued in which many of the mutineers were killed or wounded. Lacking strong leadership, the mutiny started to lose direction – a large number of the mutineers surrendered immediately, and the rest scattered into the jungles, to wage a sniping war on the allies. Many tried to cross the Strait of Johore, but were quickly rounded up by the Sultan of Johore's army.[10]

On 20 February, six companies of the 5th Shropshire Infantry (Territorials) arrived from Rangoon, to relieve the sailors and the marines. They succeeded in quickly rounding up the last of the mutineers.

Trial and public executions

The public executions of convicted sepoy mutineers at Outram Road, Singapore, c. March 1915

On 23 February 1915 a Court of Inquiry was held, at first in secret but then publicly, to ensure that a fair trial was seen to have been carried out in the crown colony. It lasted until 15 May 1915. The cause of the mutiny was not conclusively established, but the inquiry agreed that insidious agents had incited the mutineers, who were swayed either by nationalistic or religious sentiments, to band together to fight against their perceived injustice.[11]

More than 200 sepoys were tried by court-martial, and 47 were executed, including Kassim Mansoor. Nur Alam Shah was not put on trial, although he was exposed as an active Indian nationalist with links to Ghadar.[12] Instead he was detained and deported, as the British did not want to stir up trouble among their Muslims subjects. Sixty-four were transported for life, and 73 were given terms of imprisonment ranging from 7 to 20 years. The public executions by firing squad took place at Outram Prison, witnessed by an estimated 15,000 people. The Straits Times reported:

An enormous crowd, reliably estimated at more than 15,000 people, was packed on the slopes of Sepoy Lines looking down on the scene. The square as before was composed of regulars, local volunteers and Stropshire under the command of Colonel Derrick of the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC). The firing party consisted of men from the various companies of SVC under Captain Tongue and Lieutenant Blair and Hay.[13]

The mutineers who surrendered early were later sent to fight in Africa, against the German colonial army. In 1922, the 5th Infantry was disbanded.[2] Much the same fate befell the Malay States Guides; they were sent to Kelantan in Malaya to quell Tok Janggut's uprising at Pasir Puteh in April 1915. Afterwards the Guides were sent to fight in Africa and were disbanded in 1919.[14]


The 1915 Singapore Mutiny Memorial Tablet at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore

The episode persuaded the British that they could no longer depend on Indian soldiers, nor could they rely on their allies, especially Japan, for any help in the perpetuation of their empire. Subsequently, all Indian nationals in Singapore were required to register, causing ill-feelings amongst a predominantly loyal community.[15]

In order to enhance Singapore's internal security, the British passed the "Reserve Force and Civil Guard Ordinance" in August 1915, requiring compulsory military service from all male subjects between 15 and 55 years of age who were not in the armed forces, volunteers or police.[14]

Sensing weakness in Britain's handling of the mutiny, extreme Indian revolutionaries began to court overseas sepoys more aggressively, and cultivated a friendship with Japan for the overthrow of the British in India. Their plans bore fruit with the formation of the Indian National Army, led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, during the Second World War Japanese Occupation of Singapore.


To commemorate the event and those British soldiers and civilians killed during the mutiny, two memorial tablets were erected at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall and four plaques in St Andrew's Cathedral.[16] In addition, two roads were later named in memory of two of the casualties as Harper Road and Holt Road, after Corporal J. Harper and Private A. J. G. Holt respectively.[17]

See also



  1. ^ Kuwajima, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b Sareen, "Preface".
  3. ^ "Commentary on the Mutiny". New York Times. 2 May 1915.  
  4. ^ Ban, p. 53.
  5. ^ Sareen, "Report Section II" pp. 39–40.
  6. ^ a b c Sareen, pp. 11–14.
  7. ^ Herbert, Edwin (2003). Small Wars and Skirmishes: 1902-1918 - Early Twentieth-century Colonial Campaigns in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Foundry books. p. p. 223. ISBN 1-901543-05-6.  
  8. ^ "Narrative of Their Doings in the Mutiny". The Straits Times. 26 April 1915.  
  9. ^ Sareen, pp. 14–15.
  10. ^ "The Mutiny". The Straits Times. 26 March 1915.  
  11. ^ Sareen, "Report Section II".
  12. ^ Ban, "Tales of Unrest", pp. 28–29.
  13. ^ "Execution of Twenty Two Renegades". The Straits Times. 26 March 1915.  
  14. ^ a b Ban, pp. 56—58.
  15. ^ Sareen, "Proclamation Under Martial Law", p. 822.
  16. ^ "1915 Indian (Singapore) Mutiny". Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved 2007-06-14.  
  17. ^ Savage, p. 145, 150.


  • Sareen, T.R. (1995). Secret Documents On Singapore Mutiny 1915. New Delhi: Mounto Publishing House. ISBN 81-7451-009-5.  
  • Ban, Kah Choon (2001). Absent History: The Untold Story of Special Branch Operations in Singapore 1915–1942. Singapore: SNP Media Asia. ISBN 981-4071-02-1.  
  • Kuwajima, Sho (1988). First World War and Asia–Indian Mutiny in Singapore (1915). Japan: Osaka University.  
  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2004). Toponymics–A Study of Singapore Street Names (2nd Ed). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. ISBN 981-210-364-3.  

Further reading

  • Harper, R. W. E. and Miller, Harry (1984). Singapore Mutiny. Singapore: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195825497.  
  • Barley, Nigel (2006). Rogue Raider – The Tale of Captain Lauterbach And The Singapore Mutiny. Singapore: Monsoon Books. ISBN 981-05-5949-6.  

External links


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