British troops stationed in India (in this case in the presidency of Madras, in south India) needed to be trained in the use of their weapons. Troops were drilled constantly so that they would be able to use their arms in the chaos, noise and confusion of battle without thinking.
For centuries, the sword had been one of the soldier’s principal weapons on the battlefield, or in boarding actions at sea. The sword was the characteristic weapon of cavalry (when straight, used by heavy cavalry; light cavalry used the curved sabre) but infantry (that is, foot-soldiers) also carried swords on occasions. Infantry officers and often sergeants were also equipped with swords.
These weapons were not merely ceremonial or used to signify the wearer’s standing. If they were issued, their wearers needed to know how to use them in battle. The manual of Infantry Sword Exercises was used to instruct men fighting on foot to perform the ‘seven cuts and three points’ using swords. (Cavalry drill , on horseback, was even more complex.)
British infantry regiments adopted new ‘percussion’ muskets early in the 1840s. They were fired using a small ‘cap’ of fulminate of mercury, which when released by the trigger struck a nipple and ignited the gunpowder in the barrel.
Troops needed to be trained how to handle and fire the muskets, skills imparted by repetitive drills, for use both in battle and in formalities such as funerals. The Manual and Platoon Exercises , actually almost identical to the drill for the percussion musket’s predecessor, the ‘Brown Bess’ flintlock, described the drill soldiers were to follow.
These manuals were produced in Madras by a local printer, who copied exactly the original published in London, ensuring uniformity in British forces wherever they served in the empire.