In 1857 India was a patchwork of independent states and territory administered by the Honourable East India Company (the Company), a British company that had close links with the British government, yet ran India largely for profit. When the mutiny broke out in 1857, it was amongst units in its Bengal Army, the largest of its three armies, made up overwhelmingly of local recruits. With much of the Bengal Army in revolt, the Company had to suppress it with the parts of the Bengal Army that remained loyal, the other presidency armies of Bombay and Madras, Company European troops, some troops raised locally for the purpose, and units ‘loaned’ by the British Army, known as the Queen’s Army to distinguish it from that of the Company. Hegemony state that this set contains European troops plus two poses of loyal sepoys (Indian troops), which would certainly not count as ‘British Army’ but we will overlook that.
We will begin our look at this set by discussing the sculpting, for this affects all other aspects of the collection, and as you can plainly see, the quality is very poor. It is hard to make out much detail, and clothing lacks the usual sort of creases and folds that would suggest fabric. Faces are poor and hands are often lacking fingers, and items such as straps are chunky and rudimentary. The basic structure of the figures, which do not display good anatomy, is very odd as the back is considerably less detailed than the front. So for example, several figures have straps shown at the front, but nothing appears at the back, which is itself almost flat. There is a tremendous amount of flash (which apparently varies greatly between copies of the set), and a very rough and ready shape to some of the limbs. The second figure in the bottom row has a withered left arm that is 75% upper arm, almost immediately followed by the man’s wrist and hand. Overall it looks quite a mess, but even if expertly cleaned up, the poor anatomy cannot be so easily remedied.
There are only seven poses, and these are split between European and Indian troops, so not a lot on offer, but worse still is there are few ordinary soldiers as far as we can tell. Our top row shows all the poses that have a firearm, so just three, and none of the poses seems like a good choice. There is no one firing their weapon or moving, nor in the ranks. Instead we have a man holding his rifle (although his hands do not grip, so it more perches on his hand), followed by a man cradling his rifle across his arms, and a kneeling figure. Pretty unusual choices in our view, and in a set with a good many poses we would have thought these amongst the weakest of the bunch, but as the only riflemen on offer we find the choices incomprehensible and very hard to find any use for. The second row begins with what seems to be someone holding a grenade in a particularly unconvincing manner. Hand-grenades were used in the Mutiny, but were rare, and not held in such a poor way, so another pose we did not like. In addition, this man seems to have his right foot buried under a pile of bricks. Our reaction – Why? Next seems to be an officer doing little (a much easier pose to accept), followed by another officer doing equally little except raising his hand. Finally we have a swordsman holding his sword in his left hand and resting it on his head. This, like the other poses, is particularly flat and simply looks bizarre.
In just about any campaign you would argue that the appearance of the soldiers diverged significantly from the regulations, particularly after some time in the field, but this is especially true of European troops in India. Much of the Mutiny was conducted during the heat of the Indian summer and during monsoon, so practical clothing was essential, and officially sanctioned, although on occasions not available. Variety was everywhere, so lots of different styles would be authentic, giving lots of scope for the designer. The sculpting is so poor that it is not easy to tell exactly what is being worn in many cases, but we are assuming that the two native poses are the middle figure in the top row and the man with the grenade, since both wear round caps that match nothing worn by any European forces (and to be honest like nothing we know of for native troops either). Two of the European soldiers seem to wear a sort of tunic with tails that wrap round the body but are open at the front – not a style worn by this date. The third man (the swordsman) seems to wear a featureless smock/shirt, which was originally issued for wear on board ship and was worn on the battlefield too. The swordsman has a round peaked cap we could not identify, but the other two seem to have covered Kilmarnock caps, which was typical dress. The kneeling man has a haversack, but the other rifleman has no kit, although he does have cross-belts (on the front at least) which support nothing. The swordsman has a strap down to his right hip (again at the front only) from which is a long thin thing we could not guess at (a truncheon?). Officers naturally pleased themselves at the best of times, and certainly in India, so these two have plausible clothing and the Kilmarnock cap, one of which is covered, so no problems with these two. The two natives are very hard to make out, but match no picture we have seen of such troops.
So poor sculpting, some incomprehensible choices of pose and some clothing we could find no evidence for. Not a great summing up of any set, and to be honest much of what we have said is evident from the pictures above anyway. This is the first and so far the only set for a fascinating and very important episode in the history of both European imperialism and Asia, and there is enormous scope for interesting uniforms and exotic units, but this very basic set doesn’t really get the coverage started.