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The Bengal Army's European Regiments

Alongside Indian sepoys, European troops served in the Company's armies, but under quite different conditions. Unlike sepoys, European troops remained perennially in short supply and expensive; nevertheless, the Company believed them to be the heart of its army. The long English wars in Europe created a chronic shortage of able-bodied European males—even for the Royal Army which, by law, held precedence in recruiting over the Company. Consequently, the Company engaged contractors (“crimps”) to supply Europeans—of any nationality, including French, German, and Swiss prisoners of war—at a rate of up to £5 per man.[25] Indeed, London newspapers reported that the Court of Directors illegally arranged for European men to be kidnapped and forcibly impressed into its armies.[26]

During this period, Company officers in India constantly complained, and London regularly made excuses, about the low quality and inadequate quantity of these European recruits. Mortality rates on those transport ships that reached India sometimes approached 50 percent. In addition, the high rates of deaths in India from disease—and occasionally from wounds—created a constant, and largely unmet, demand for European soldiers. Despite nominal requirements for age, size, and health, many of the recruits who finally reached India proved unfit for duty.[27] In 1768, the Commander-in-Chief wrote about the latest crop of European recruits: “they are exceedingly bad…the refuse of our metropolis.…The Company are at a great expence to send abroad annually a number of soldiers when in fact, instead of recruiting our army, they only serve to increase our Hospitals.…[A]t present our European Regiments compared to a Battalion of Sepoys appear like a Regiment of Dwarfs.”[28]

Despite the difficulties in recruiting such European soldiers, and the relatively abundant supply of Indian soldiers, the Company saw these European infantry regiments as its moral core—although they comprised only about 15 percent of the Company's army in India. At this time European officers and European troops “mutinied” about as frequently as Indian troops. Nonetheless, many Britons in the Company believed that sepoys would only stand firm in battle if European regiments provided “stiffening.”


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