On May 11, 1857, as Indian sepoys who had revolted against the British in Meerut over the use of cartridges allegedly greased with pig and cow fat entered Delhi and tried to take control of the city, there was murder and mayhem in the initial hours. Many thugs and thieves whom they had released from British jails had joined them and were encouraging them to loot and kill.
The European families who lived in the Kashmiri Darwaza area took shelter wherever they could, some in the magazine as it was close to their homes.
The sepoys attacked the British magazine to capture the arsenal stocked there. The British officers defended it and the soldiers present there, but when they realised they were fighting a losing battle and that the sepoys were scaling the walls, Lieutenant GD Willoughby blew up the arsenal to prevent it from falling into rebel hands.
Though Willoughby and some of his companions managed to escape, around 56 European women and children and a few men were captured by the sepoys and taken to the Red Fort. The 82-year-old Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, sent orders that the sepoys be calmed down and the prisoners taken into his safe custody and arrangements be made to keep them and treat the injured.