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History of Kanpur

Believed to have been settled by an ancient Hindu king and referred to as Kanhpur, the area was of little significance till 1765, when Shuja-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Avadh was defeated in battle by the British at Jajmau. Kanpur was officially transferred to the British under a treaty signed in 1801 with the ruling Nawab of Avadh and was declared a district in 1803. Appreciating the strategic location of Kanpur on the banks of the Ganga, colonial traders started setting up business in the sleepy hamlet, converting it into a thriving garrison town. The history of Kanpur saw its most significant and probably most horrific period during the Mutiny of 1857. Nana Sahib, one of the key players in the events of India’s first uprising against colonial rule, declared independence on 7th June 1857 in Kanpur.

The garrison commander Brigadier General Hugh Wheeler retreated into trenches dug along a canal in the cantonment area with about one thousand British residents. They were laid siege to by the Mutineers and many died of gunfire, disease and starvation. Towards the end of June, the garrison surrendered on condition of safe passage to Allahabad. As they were boarding boats at the Satichaura Ghat, a group of mutineers attacked with swords and guns. Most of the men were killed. The women and children who survived were taken prisoner and kept at the Bibighar.

On July 15th relief came in the form of fresh British forces under the command of Brigadier General Havelock. Panicking at the possibility of defeat, the Indian soldiers butchered the couple of hundred women and children who had survived the Satichaura massacre. Their dismembered bodies were then thrown into a nearby well. The British, on their part wreaked dreadful revenge, executing several innocent locals and shooting prisoners from the mouth of cannons. As the Mutiny was subverted, Nana Sahib escaped and is believed to have died in 1859. After the British took possession of Kanpur once again, the well was bricked over and a memorial with a cross raised at the site of the horrific massacre.

Kanpur regained its pre-eminence as an important industrial town with the establishment of leather factories and cotton mills. The Harness and Saddler Factory was started in 1860 to supply leather products to the army while the first cotton mill was begun in 1862. From then on Kanpur has been in the forefront of the leather and cotton industry of north India.

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